I made it back to the hotel without crashing the car. I don’t know how. I’ve no memory of the drive, my mind was too full, pulling at the tattered ends of a hundred strings and drawing no conclusions. I thought of Ellie Gordon’s terrified eyes, of the woman, Nerine, in the cemetery. I thought of Zacharius, of the vase and of the party-goers at Elm Mews House, of Edward Sennet and Avogadro and Mrs Loveday. I thought of Dominic, whom I did not know. Pieces missing. I don’t know myself.
The hotel was very quiet. Cold, winter sunlight fell in a board stripe across the carpet in reception, fading it to pink, and glinting specks of dust moved lazily in the air. A woman I hadn’t seen before was sitting at the desk, reading a magazine. She hid it as I approached, tucking it under the ledger. Her speed at fetching me my key might have been good customer-service, but I think she just wanted to get back to her magazine.
I went to my room, trudging up the stairs, clutching the rail like a ninety-year-old. Five minutes later I flew down them again.
The woman at the desk stared at me, alarmed. She was in her mid-twenties with a plump, round face. Her features were unformed, like a child’s, and her lips were chapped from the cold.
“Has someone been up to my room?” I demanded.
“Has someone been up to my room!”
She shook her head and blinked at me nervously. “Um…which room?”
“You just gave me the key to it. Room 15!”
“Room 15. I’m Mr. Lyle. Has anyone been up there? My laptop’s gone!”
She fiddled with the ledger, turning a page. “Um...I’m sorry. Should I call the police? I’ll get Ms. Nash.” She seemed relieved at this idea, to pass the problem to someone else. Her hand slipped down under the desk, no doubt a bell was concealed there.
“So, has anyone gone up to my room or not?” I insisted, speaking slowly, emphasizing each word. She only became more flustered, maybe due to the hard edge of anger I couldn’t keep from my voice.
“I…I don’t know. The chambermaid? I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
Debbie Nash appeared beside me, making me jump. I hadn’t heard her approach. She looked from me to the receptionist, standing ramrod-straight, her hands clasped primly together. “Is there a problem?”
“Yes there’s a problem!” I exploded. “My laptop has gone from my room. Someone’s been through my case – half my stuff has been taken.”
“Oh dear,” she said, staring right through me. “I’m very sorry. Which room is that?”
She knew very well which room, but her calm was a stone wall and my rage was as futile and ineffective as a wave that beat against it. “Room 15,” I said. “Room 15.”
“Room 15,” she echoed tonelessly. “Would you like us to contact the police, Mr. Lyle?”
“I want you to tell me who’s been up there.”
“I really couldn’t say. If there’s been a theft, it would be best for the police to handle it I’m sure. Yvette – would you call them?” she said to the receptionist. “The number of the local station is in the book.”
“Forget it,” I said. “Just forget it, I’m checking out.”
“Are you sure? We can easily call them. I know Sergeant Gould very well.” She stared at me, at last meeting my eyes. Her smile was one of triumph. “But you know best of course.”
“Of course,” I said acidly. I felt like screaming.
After I checked out and gathered the remnants of my possessions I went and sat in the car. I was shaking with anger, my throat closed up with bitterness that almost choked me. I could have gone. I should have. I should have started the car and driven out of that town.
Zacharius. I thought. Zacharius. And his daughter. I’ll beat it out of them. And I bit my tongue so hard I tasted blood.