My first reaction was incredulity. How can someone choke on soap? Then I noticed Ivor’s bright red face. Pulling at his starched collar, he was writhing, struggling to breathe as he sunk off his chair to the floor.
About me, the people rose to their feet, as the room burst into one sound: screams. Panic was electric. Frozen, I could think of nothing but the first bullet-rumours that had incited my mystery brain. I had let disaster crash around me once again; and I was so very close to losing everybody I knew.
“He’s choking! Or something!” Carrie cried, the first to clutch at Ivor.
“Do something,” was the instant response of those others, those who were still at their places.
By the time I myself had leapt out of my seat, Marina and the Inspector were now on the floor beside Ivor, whilst Carrie had sprung up, and set about sniffing the soup.
All around me was alarm.
“Gusaf!” Mrs. Karkroff cried, flinging her arms about all over the place. A hand caught on her glass, and wine poured over the tablecloth. Mr. Thomason and the politician attended to the woman, trying to reduce the amount of wine and hysteria that was flowing out over the table.
I watched both scenes with dismay.
“Forget the wine!” I finally resorted to saying. “Come on, we’ve got to help Ivor!”
Carrie’s face creased up.
“He’s been poisoned! It smells like almonds…”
“Bitter almonds?” I gasped. We both knew what the other was thinking, grave implications arising from one word. Simultaneously, we cried the end of everything…
Richard was next to kneel down, his hands trying to open up Ivor’s airwaves. Soon the boy’s breathing had become more sporadic, but at least the colour of his face had paled to a calmer rose.
“How can you say…?” Richard yelled. “How can you even think…?”
Carrie gave her typical shrug, whilst her eyes darted about, betraying the darting thoughts in her brain, unfocused through her upcoming shock. Still, she forced the pain down.
“I’ve brought him water,” announced Mr. Karkroff, popping back, glass in her. I hadn’t even seen him leave.
“No, no!” Carrie replied. She leapt up and flew through the dining room and into the kitchen, me at her heels.
“What are you looking for?”
Carrie continued to frantically scrabble about, knocking over sugar jars and various cups, saucers, and other miscellany as she searched in deep desperation.
“Milk! Milk generally does the trick!”
Caroline looked up for a second, surprised.
“Yeah, mother’s milk is liquid gold. Plus, its alkaline, antibacterial properties do wonders to the digestion, especially when it comes to disposing of harmful chemicals.”
“Ms. Peterson, where do you learn these things?” Maripose said, suspicious creeping through the worry deep in her voice. She was at the door, leaning on its frame as if her own life depending upon it.
“I have some time on my hands,” Carrie said, racing through her words. “Plus,” she added, turning to me as I passed her a pink carton of milk from the fridge, “I never told you that my main A-Levels were biology and chemistry. I also took music to keep Josh company.”
Even in the rushed, frantic of times, she gave me a sly wink. When I stopped rubbing my eyes, wondering about the enigma, she was gone.
I raced back to the young boy, his body still as the cyanide began to sweep through his vital organs.
“Come on! Hold him up!”
Without warning, she upended the glass and tipped the creamy milk straight into Ivor’s mouth. At the angle she herself tilted his neck, well, the milk was able to slip right down, despite splattering both Caroline’s knees and across Ivor’s shirt. That image no longer mattered.
We held our breath collectively. The silence was agony.
As the entire room seemed to tumble down at my shoulders, the loudest gasp tumbled from Ivor himself; his face filtered out the various colours, eventually settling on ghost-white. Marina helped Carrie to lift the little boy onto his side, and promptly, poor Ivor vomited.
Maripose’s gasp was the next thing I heard. Looking up, I noticed that she, too, had palled to that ghastly shade of a blank face. After a second of seemingly cradling her body, she turned and ran out of the room.
“He’s all right,” breathed Carrie, whilst Marina sank back into Richard’s warm arms. In contrast to Maripose’s, her face was bright and beaming; survival suited the superstar.
Mr. Karkroff was torn. Between the love of his absent wife and the rescue of his son there was no time for him to contemplate the mystery as I was so doing. Elsie was ignored, much to her relief; Mr. Karkroff cradled Ivor’s head, his eyes lingering on the door, on the ghostly lay of where his wife had been.
“I’ll look to her, sir,” Vladimere announced.
Having watched the politician sprint away, I turned back to Ivor. His face, pale, was the sole remnant of his trouble. That and the dizziness of the boy that only I seemed to notice.
“Get a pillow,” I told them. Nicky, still watching from a distance, her knuckles white as she gripped the chair she had once sat upon, suddenly snapped out of whatever vicious reverie had been running around her mind, and raced through to the office. In there, I had duly noticed, there was a settee with two or three stuffed cushions sitting askew on the upholstery.
“Что случилось?” Though not a linguist, I was pretty sure that meant ‘what happened’. The poor boy must have had no clue as to what had happened.
“I can’t believe it...” Nicky whispered as she returned, her voice catching in her throat. “Poisoned...there...the soup.” She had become even pastier than her usual beige complexion, her hair even brighter. With one toss, the pillow landed at Ivor’s shoed feet, and Marina arranged it around the boy’s head.
“Nicky...?” I said slowly, moving, now that the boy was okay.
“It’s all true, isn’t it?” she continued, gaping. “Mr. Rusav and now...this.”
“Nicky...” I warned, begging my irritation of her distress not to grow into anger. However, kindness bit at my heart, and I reached out to the lady, despite her flinching away again. She seemed particularly unstable today.
“Inspector, can you...?” Looking to him, I nodded my head towards Nicky.
His own nod, in response, was a curt but civil one. I guess, as a policeman, he was used to this sort of thing. As he led the woman away, the remaining diners were becoming a skeleton crew. Leaving Mr. Karkroff to cradle his recovering son with the aid of Elsie and Richard, still on the floor, Marina, Caroline and I began to automatically clean up the cold, unfinished bowls and abandoned glasses. I was careful to notice Caroline sniffing at Ivor’s orange juice too, she even peering into the flutes of champagne that had only been poured out for the adults. I fingered Elsie’s drink myself, blackcurrant (since it was said that she didn’t like orange juice), my nose going subconsciously to it as well. Carrie giggled at me.
When we entered the miniature kitchen again, leaving the others behind, I turned accusingly to her.
“What? I was only doing what you were.”
“Yes, but it can’t have been Elsie’s drink that was intended. Only she handled her drink. Didn’t you see her pour it out in here? She then carried it in herself. The poor girl knew that no one would be looking to serve her...”
“Fine!” I was hot and flustered. “What made you suddenly so attentive?”
“Poirot,” she replied bluntly.
By now, the extent of the mess we were in had hit through to me.
I couldn’t stop myself from gaping down at what Caroline had done. I was furious internally, but, on the outside, I couldn’t help marvelling at the day’s miracles. My mouth hung loose as though my jaw could no longer hold it.
“Carrie, that was brilliant! I…I couldn’t believe that it was you doing all those things!”
“I owe it all to Agatha Christie. I wouldn’t have recognised the poison- or the antidote. A lot of things would have changed if I hadn’t have read as much as I had done in that book.”
My eyes widened. She was indeed pointing, through the open doors to her copy of ‘Sparkling Cyanide’, lying discarded on one of the end-tables in the office.
“I shall have to borrow that book from you one day…” I gasped.
Then the darkness shrouded us both once again. We stared at each other, standing blankly beside the dishwasher.
“Keep Ivor’s soup. The Inspector will want to analyse it,” I told her.
“I know.” Silence burnt between us. “Agnetha...”
“Yes?” I found myself snapping the word across the kitchen.
“I’m sorry.” Carrie sighed. “Am I taking charge? I was only seeing and doing...well, what I thought would save Ivor’s life.”
“And it did. I just think that you’re being too presumptuous.”
“There’s been a murder!”
“But you don’t surely think that the poison was intended...?”
I shook my head violently. It was all getting too much again. For whatever reason, there was a high-stool in the kitchen. I sat, trying to sink as low as I could into the fabric.
“I need time to think about this, Carrie. For now, I don’t want to think about the many things that link these two tragedies. To think we just escaped...”
Carrie turned, her eyes watching my expression staring between the monochrome tiles and the naked ceiling. I couldn’t look at my friend anymore.
She studied my face, her eyes wide, yet hooded in sorrow. I guessed she didn’t know what to do now that I had punished her with my instantaneous, bitter words again. She had, to the letter, saved one of the most important people in Moscow’s culture- Ivor, the heir to the estate- and all I had done in my thanks was rant on at her again. She watched me as if I was I who had dripped the poison into the heir’s mouth.
But that was just it: I had a trail of trouble following me. I was the bad one, I was the one through which everything seemed to storm, and it was I who had made this poor boy go through so much trouble.