V

The presence of a grand old man is often noticed amongst quiet and simple folk, in the same way that a diva will be picked out instantly despite being amongst many other arrivals. What especially enthralled me about this particular man was that he had a strong accent simply described in the best way as: Moscovian.

His goatee was wired black to match the hairs upon his head, and they were the crown of his outfit of a black dinner jacket, silver lining a pair to the colour of the silver tie.

Coming over to the Inspector through the room, from the door that I still could not make out, a hidden tapestry of sorts, the grand man burbled in rushed Russian, to which the Inspector was happy to reply in the same. Then the man turned to me. I noticed he was saying a similar phrase, but that didn't make it any easier to understand.

As he poured forth his Russian at me, I realised that it had been him on the other end of the doorbell earlier.

"English?" I suggested helpfully once he had finished.

"Ah," the man said definitely. “So you are Miss King, Inspector Simnova’s assistant.”

It wasn’t a question, but, offended, I was more than happy to take it as one.

"No, I'm an independent investigator." I held out my hand to show the man some respect, and also to ask for it as well.

“I am Gustaf Karkroff, owner of Karkroff Hall, of course. This is my beautiful wife, Maripose..."

I had only just noticed the woman gliding radiantly behind him, but she certainly wasn’t less of a figure than her husband. She was dressed in a floor-length gown, dark crimson with hints of black, and her dark hair had been pinned back so that it was half flowing from the pins at the top of her head, and half flowing from the usual roots. She certainly was a vision of beauty, younger and freer than her husband.

She smiled gently, surveying all, and placed herself in the armchair that Carrie had just vacated. The latter suddenly began to give off a sense of employer-employee atmosphere.

“She’s not normally docile,” I heard her mutter in my ear. “Only around company. Otherwise, she has a nasty temper.”

I was promptly introduced formally to Mr. And Mrs. Karkroff, and then I made my excuses to leave.

Walking up the snowy path of Vanhelm Street, I heard running footsteps crunching behind me. It was Caroline. And she had followed me in a hurried manner, her boots thrust on without much care.

“Caroline…” I said, my eyes on the road ahead.

“So, what do you think?” she asked.

Suddenly, I spun to face her.

“I…don’t know what to think. I don’t know- I understand nothing. You asked me to sort this out, but there’s already an inspector!”

“I swear,” Caroline muttered, “I had no idea he was going to be there. Mr. Karkroff must have invited him…”

“And another thing,” I ranted, “why is the investigation being held at Karkroff Hall?”

“I work and live there. I guess I’m part of Moscow now. I invited everybody to it, they all live locally and that’s how I found them, and so it was okay. Aggie, I didn’t want you to have to go around hunting for witnesses, suspects and all; so I asked around at the police-station-” she blushed “-not in the usual way I do- and came up with the Nicky and Marina…and I thought- and the Karkroffs… I suppose, it’s not that great, but I’ve tried my best. They all agreed to it; they all want to find out the truth as much as we do.”

I shook with the fury that coursed through my body. Confusingly, I was close to tears.

“But I’m not an expert! They’ve got one there now, and that true inspector was in my way before I could do anything. I could not find out more, I could not even sneeze without being patronized by him!”

“I swear, I have no idea why he is there. He must have followed me after I left the police-station, or something.”

“More likely, he looked you up after you’d finished your own research.”

“Oh that sounds silly! But what’s happened to the Agnetha I know? Where is she? Where’s the girl I met two years ago?”

“She grew up. It’s been a while, you know… I’ve just finished my GCSEs. When I was fourteen, I didn’t think a moment about them.”

“Oh, but… You’re still the Agnetha I knew. You’re still the girl who would happily say boo to a flock of geese… But then, where is she? Where’s that girl who kicked the metropolitan police’s a-”

“Stop it! I’m not that person. This is a different land, not my own.” However, a smile began to creep onto my lips. “I’m glad you haven’t changed a bit, Carrie.”

“I have!” Carrie earnestly replied.

“I’ll be back tomorrow. Carrie, can you keep that Inspector Simnova away whilst I ‘interview’ everyone?”

“I sure can!” Carrie giggled. “Brr, it’s cold,” she added, wrapping her arms around her.

“You should go inside.” I pointed out. “Try and find as much gossip as you can. It shouldn’t be too hard for you!

“And, thank you, Carrie. I owe you for this pep talk.”

“No problem, okay?” Carrie called, as she began to march away.

Whilst she went back to her pleasant life, I had to drive back into the real world.

***

The End

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