Nicky was anxious, her jittery body moving with the tick of the clock; Marina looked tired of it all; Richard Thomason was pacing the floor in front of the women. The room steamed with the smoke of their frustrations. As I entered, followed faithfully by Caroline, Marina looked up hopefully, but my raised eyebrows and worn expression betrayed my regret at not having succeeded. It was not that I had let her down, as much as it was that I had let myself down.
Maripose also met us at the lounge-room door, her face patterned with a scowl.
"Ms. Peterson, do you reelize how long you have been gone? For an eternity, I've had to wonder about your coming back, or whether you even worked for us anymore."
I'm sure she was exaggerating, but that didn't make the confrontation any easier to bear.
Carrie too was taken aback.
“Well, no, I-” she began.
“I’m paying you still, and I don’t expect you to loiter continuously,” Maripose Karkroff continued.
Carrie bowed her red head sheepishly.
“Yes, ma’am. I thought, because of the murder-”
“You will attend to my children now, please. No excuses.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Caroline sadly nodded.
Maripose was a force of nature! And it seemed that Carrie had to put up with this rather a lot. I watched the confrontation, feeling ever more hurt when I saw my friend being so pressured. Finally, I saw the dejection in Carrie’s eyes, and could not take it any more.
“Hey...” I pushed in front of my governess friend. “It doesn’t matter who you are, don’t speak to Caroline like that!”
Maripose’s face creased up, her fury revealed in a full volcano force.
“Girl, don’t you dare!” Her voice rose in pitch and volume, much like a piece of percussion. “You are but a simple, youthful investigator, but I am the lady of the house, and I will not tolerate being threatened!”
“I didn’t-” I began, but once again, Maripose’s voice raged over mine. She was all too happy to interrupt me.
“Quiet!” She lifted her graceful hand above her head, seemingly about to bring it down onto me with a bang. However, another neat hand enclosed her wrist before she could finish her move; Mr. Karkroff’s eyes glinted as he pulled his wife away, and suddenly it was as though their position had been swapped; he wore the proper trousers, and she was reduced to cowering over by a chair in the corner.
With a flick of the hand, Mr. Karkroff dismissed Maripose to her children; Carrie crept around her mistress, and the group slunk out, the children quiet, as they felt the fury of the women, glaring as they watched each other.
I watched them, wondering. Was Mrs. Karkroff threatened by the presence of my Carrie? There was no attraction between the master and his employee, as Caroline was doting upon the Inspector, but there was no love between the Karkroffs either. Those poor infants...
Mr. Karkroff remained, his face most grave. Whilst, all around him, the room burst into noise, he stood still, his beady eyes watching the movement between all the guests. I too was still, and silent, but my mind still ran on, like a train that would not stop for anything on the tracks. But stop it did, and at something that Carrie herself had mentioned, and that I had passed across a minute beforehand.
There was no love lost between the Karkroffs...
“Then, who does that room belong to?”
They certainly didn’t have a happy relationship, but whether Carrie was right was still to be seen. I’d ask Mr. Karkroff for the truth, and solve Caroline’s own mystery a long the way to interpreting mine.
“Mr. Karkroff...” I muttered, quietly walking over to him. On seeing me appear, he jumped, and turned away.
“I’m sorry about that, Miss King,” he said gravely as he stood at the door.
Then, in one movement, he was gone, and I was left amongst the visitors with nothing more to do, again.
I was standing amongst the first set of comfy chairs, there being about six or seven highly-decorated ones in the room, and I was alone amongst doorway miscellany. Looking into the room, I could clearly see Mr. Thomason, chatting in a low voice to Marina, whereas Nicky sat alone, her eyes unfocused as she stared into the shining mirror (reflecting the white snow-light outside) hanging on the wall opposite.
“Nicky...” I muttered, shifting into the chair beside hers. The lady visibly jumped. Once again, I seemed to have morphed into a ghost of the past, where nobody could see me approach. That led, annoyingly, to many queries of ‘where did you come from?’ and shocked expressions.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Nicky shook her shortish hair.
“That’s okay, I was just lost in thought.”
“Nicky?” I chewed at a nail as I hesitated again.
“Have you ever read about archaeology?” I chose my words carefully, not meaning to sound like I was spouting case-sensitive nonsense. “What do you do for work?” I added, mostly just out of curiosity.
Nicky looked at me curiously, but smiled nevertheless, showing her cigarette-stained teeth.
“I guess the Inspector told you about that, did he? Yes, it’s true that I’ve got an MA in archaeology, focusing on modern archaeology, images in the ground from post-1800s. I haven’t worked physically since I had the kids. My husband…he earned enough.”
“So, you know a lot about digging and tunnelling?”
“Oh, goodness, no. The archaeology I’m involved with is purely theoretical, as in which sites would be the places to dig, and interpreting natural signs of earth-change. I’ve never lifted a shovel in my entire life.”
“Okay,” I smiled along with her.
So, that pathway seemed to cut off abruptly. Offering Nicky another one of my precious smiles, I made my way over to Richard and Marina, noticing how suddenly close they had become, especially since my arrival over the last couple of days.