When I entered the lounge room, I noticed three new guests, excluding Inspector Simnova, who I didn’t count as a guest- invited or not- at all.
The first guest that I noticed happened to be feverishly quarrelling with the Inspector in the centre of the room. Expecting to be faced with more smooth, yet rapid, Russian, I was startled to hear a metallic American drawl.
“I saw it, and I was the one who reported the murder. I’m the ‘Innocent Bystander’. At least include me until I get over the shock of the discovery! Come one, man! A dead body! You know, I shouldn’t just be written off as a bit part!”
“Will you stop following me around, Mr. Thomason!” the Inspector insisted roughly.
The owner of the other voice was a dark-haired, pale-skinned man, who looked uncomfortable in the thick fleece he was wearing. A hot city dweller, I determined.
“Who’s that?” I asked Carrie.
Another American voice from beside my left knee answered. This accent was milder, and, in fact, it had rather a Russian twang to it. I quickly whipped my eyes downwards, watching the other stranger who was sitting deep into an armchair. There was something familiar about his black hair and his long legs…
“That’s my brother, Adam,” the man told me. “He’s eighteen, and he found the body whilst he was out visiting me…or whilst he was out, more like. I guess he was popping back to my place after a late night when he heard ‘the’ scream. But, I dunno. You should ask him about it, he likes to talk, as you can probably see. He thinks he has a right to sit by Inspector Simnova whilst he solves the puzzle.”
I spun around to face him, already not impressed by what he had said.
“And you are...?”
“Richard Thomason.” He extended a hand. “My friends call me ‘Rich’. I...am a friend of family. I’m obliged to be where the action is, especially as it is being hosted by the Karkroffs-”
My mind drifted as he talked, as it sometimes did when I was lost in a mystery. Suddenly, I burst out:
“You were here yesterday! I saw you talking to Marina!”
Richard stopped, his mouth open and silently forming his next words.
“Yes… Since, I’ve been here, I’ve got to know Miss Rusav a bit better. I’m sorry I left as abruptly as I did yesterday, but I had a job interview to get to… As I was saying before, the problem is that the only hold the Karkroffs have, the only thing they can use as a bartering chip for the police to be here is the space for the investigation and the money to front any ‘personal expenses’. But, believe me, I don’t know about police business. The most I’ve gathered is that Ms. Peterson’s- hello!- being here would have prompted Simnova to move the investigation too. I've heard she has something of a power over him.”
I turned accusingly to Carrie, but she frowned as her cheeks turned the same shade as her hair. Afterwards, she chose to make her way over Nicky and Marina, comforting them both. I watched her back as it sashayed away, confused. I decided it was best to ignore cryptic Richard, and so I wandered towards the Inspector. Adam was ranting on, all the time being edged towards the door.
As he was shunted along beside me, I suddenly recognised the black-haired boy as the American who’d spoken to me in art gallery. He looked up as my eyes and cheeks burned.
“Hey! Nice to see you.”
“And you,” I laughed. “Now go away. We detectives have some work to do.”
Adam looked me up and down once. If I didn’t know better, I would have said that he was checking me out.
“You’re no way a ‘tec. You’re only, what, eighteen.”
It was the best compliment I’d had all week.
“I’m sixteen, but thank you.”
Finally, once they’d followed Adam on his way out the door, my eyes were able to alight on the last of the unexpected lounge occupants. Beside the Inspector, sat a thin man comfortably bulked out by his neat fur-line coat and a trilby-styled hat over smoothed-back brown hair.
I took confident strides towards him, sitting up, pole-straight in his chair, his keen emerald eyes on the others. I may have looked brave, but I certainly didn’t feel it. This man’s aura was crackling.
However, the sudden image of a Meerkat popped into my mind, and, looking between the two mental-images, I began to giggle. It was hard to compress the giggles, but I did, and at least that put a smile upon my bothered lips.
“Hello…” I said as I approached him cautiously.
“Greetings!” he replied cheerfully in the smoothest Russian English I had heard to date. “Of course you know who I am!” (I shook my head). “No? Ah, well, the English are always out of the politics.” He cleared his throat. “I am Vladimere Sterinsky.”
He held his head up proudly with a hand out to me.
“Politics? Do you mean that you’re a politician? What are you doing here?” I gaped, the hand having been shoved into mine. The man was strong and his grip was a rough one.
Vladimere cleared his throat.
“It was regrettable that my car broke down nearby. I recognised Karkroff Hall, as one does, having worked with Gustaf a few times. So, I decided to wait here until my replacement car arrives.
“It seems that my arrival here is well-timed though, as I seem to have found myself amongst an investigation of the murder of a fellow Russian. I knew Petre Rusav vaguely, and this interests me. Nothing of this sort should happen in my country and I plan to assist your Inspector with grants.”
I nodded, not knowing what to say, but far from dumbstruck in awe. As I wandered away to the furthest edge of the room, noticing the long tapestry hanging askew beside me over a thick traditional wooden door, the singing star, Marina, sniffed and abruptly left her seat for the company of the curtains. Curious, I followed.