In less than ten minutes later, we were coated and booted, and had left Karkroff Hall. Carrie was the puppy at our heels, and, what with the murder, had managed to wrangle herself some free time to join us.

As I left, I watched the two young Karkroffs as they bounded around their mother. Maripose's smile, once again, did not quite reach her eyes.

As Inspector Simnova led Carrie and I down Vanhelm Street, a clipboard-carrying brunette stepped out of the car with the Russian number-plates, and scurried over to the Inspector. When they had exchanged a selection of Russian sentences, one containing a word that sounded very much like 'police', I realised that the brunette must be the Inspector's assistant, a sergeant below him. When their short conversation came to a halt, I raised my eyebrows at the man.

"Miss Lingdstan just informed me that the team can meet us at the Sterrt Road alleyway in ten minutes."

Then he proceeded to hurry us all through a maze of tight, snow-drenched streets, and, sooner than I expected, we reached a bare street, with three or four small buildings framing each side, and the shadow of a larger, half-completed building in the slot that was the grand end of the road, a dead-end similar to that of the position of Karkroff Hall.

In fact, as I gazed towards the west, I could identify the dark silhouette, blazing cream-white brick against the pallid sky. This road must have been very close to Vanhelm Street. The murder site was sitting so close to the hall that Caroline had chosen to hold the investigation. How curious.

A car was parked opposite, and I noticed a bunch of policemen step out as we arrived, some in uniform, a couple in lab-coats, and one without any noticeable police-suit.

The clipboard-carrying assistant, the ‘Miss Lingdstan’, hugged her clipboard close, a habit that she seemed to be in the constant act of doing. She hugged the clipboard, and leant up to the Inspector, muttering something in their native tongue, and the Inspector leant down to me.

“This is the alleyway in which Mr. Rusav was found. The murder weapon has yet to be found; he had a knife placed gently into his back, but the shape of it was not corresponding with that of Mr. Rusav’s wound.”

“So, I gathered, and so you said.”

“Ah,” he muttered, and pointed out to me a patch of rough-looking snow, dusty brown and broken up, next to a steel dustbin; other than that, the alleyway was bare, and under the snow sat cobblestones, spanning the way up to a recently-built red-brick wall, and littered only by wrappers and passing old newspaper snatches.

I nodded thoughtfully.

“I see what Marina was saying yesterday about the impossibility of Petre being stabbed in the back unless he was involved in a great struggle.”

I wandered into the side-street to show the Inspector what I meant.

"If he was chasing the kidnappers into here, forward, as Marina suggests, where could they have gone? If there'd been an altercation between Petre and them, they would have stabbed him in the chest; but no, he was stabbed in the back. Therefore, it's safe to assume that the kidnappers escaped, in the dark, before he could corner them. So, where?" Intuition led me forward, and, before I knew why, I knelt down in the snow, despite getting wet patches soaking in a cold manner right through to my knees.

It seemed right to follow what my mind was trying to tell me. So, following intuitions’ ideas, I began to scrub my hands (getting them wet too) around in the snow, here gritty and grotty with dirt, black ice melting at a rapid rate. At first I thought my search was going to be typically futile, when:

"Aha!" I said triumphantly, as though I had everything to prove to the Inspector by this.

My hands, now filthy and cold in their gloves, had dug down to expose, unearth even, a trapdoor, which looked like it was due to lead to a cellar of one of the surrounding houses.

"Let's go!" I said, still in my triumphant state of mind. I had prised open the trapdoor without a second thought, but the gloom below my feet was empty, as black as black could be. If there was anyone down there, they were doing very well not to react from the sunlight and snow-light that was suddenly pouring in.

“I’m surprised it wasn’t locked,” I called to the Inspector.

In fact, the wooden trapdoor had been easy to lift with the iron ring that sat in its nose, and didn’t seem to have any sort of locking mechanism. I checked on the underside of the access flap, but there was no sliding lock typical of these such things. The only sign that there had once been something were two thin slices of metal about an inch apart, jagged and broken. The sole reason I found them was that I had slid my hand along the underside, and subsequently received a shallow cut across my palm.

The Inspector was looking at me with some hidden amazement on his face. He gazed at the hidden door in the floor and the darkness to which it led, as I swung my legs into the gap. It was big enough only for one person at a time.

“So, Inspector, does this pique your interest? It certainly does mine!”

I jumped eagerly down into the trapdoor, not thinking about the distance to the hard floor or any murky things below. In fact, there was a small, broken ladder, but that didn’t look like it had been used often, especially as I found, when I landed, that the floor was closer than it looked in the dark. Simply easy to drag a person down against their will.

The End

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