IX.4

“How dare you use your brother to barter for your ‘freedom’! What are ridiculous notion!” Her voice was not angry, more shocked, and tired, sick of doing the same thing over and over with me.

“Can’t you see how desperate I am?” I pleaded. “That’s the only reason I would go to Benny…but I’m not using him.

“Please. I’ve done what you asked me. I know it seems stupid, but…I’m bored. You do want what’s best for me, don’t you?”

“Don’t you use reverse psychology on me, Agnetha King.”

“You can’t stop me running,” I growled.

We watched each other, furious fires in our hearts burning though the pools of our eyes. We stared, we hated, I begged and she was no longer convinced at what was either right or wrong.

“Have you done your best to stay, is that it? Aggie, I don’t understand.”

“I don’t expect you to.”

“I don’t understand you anymore. It’s as though…you’re a new person to me. What…?”

“I don’t expect you to understand,” I repeated.

“Just go…” she sighed. Her downcast eyes watched my shadow fade. The last taste of lunch faded in my mouth as I grinned towards my brother.

I heard him mutter, “you gonna tell me?” but I had shoved him out the way already and was storming out the park, not looking back.

“Hello, Aggie?” came a sudden voice. I’d almost forgotten that Carrie was there, clutched in the device in my palm.

Business-like, my limp phone was whipped up to my ear.

“Carrie. We are good to go. Can you pick me up? It’s far too cold out here.”

***

Carrie came along in a smart car that I reckoned was Inspector Simnova’s. Her face, red from the stuffiness of the enclosed vehicle, was filled with joyous emotion as I slotted myself into the front passenger seat.

“So glad you could make it!” she said again as she pulled away. For a woman who’d reportedly never had a car, she was certainly a stable body behind the wheel.

As she turned down the road in silence, I drummed my fingers on that box in front that held back the air-bag.

“So… What can I help you with?”

“Shh!” said Carrie mysteriously. “Let’s not talk now. Five minutes more and we’ll be at Karkroff Hall.”

And, indeed, Caroline was putting the hand-break on soon afterwards. As I disembarked the car, I looked around at the place that she had left us. It was a side-street, our car the sole flattener of the murky snow onto the road.

It took me a second to realise that she had parked up right at the bottom of Vanhelm Street. The end, as the road was one of those long and varied ones, was tighter, boxed in with many modern houses, whilst, in contrast, where the Hall stood, the road was wide and compliant to its master of architecture.

“It’s a bit busy,” Caroline warned, stomping forward through the crumply snow.

And the site was. I’d forgotten why I’d found Karkroff Hall so easily, but now it was all coming back to me with a bang. A snaking queue of people, tourist-like people, dressed in the thickest of winter coats, just as my brother and I had been in the morning, was slid into place at the front of the Hall. They were all queuing to get in behind the gate labelled ‘visitors’, in which I could now see a ticket-house had popped up and various guides sat around waiting and looking bored.

I noticed too, from the lack of currently parked cars, that both the Inspector and Mr. Thomason had not yet returned.

“The afternoon gets the busiest, but, also these weekends and the beginning of the week. The summer holiday- our winter, of course- is part of the peak times.”

Saying nothing, I let Caroline guide me around the noisy queue, and through to the real, front entrance of Karkroff Hall. Her eyes flicked across the door, and then, having entered, flicked, in the same manner, across the empty rooms, before she took me through the door by which we had said our goodbyes yesterday.

“Come on,” she smiled, thumbing behind her. “I’ll show you where I work.”

The End

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