I peered around corners, looking one way at the trio of corridors, and then another, before I slammed into a body coming from the final path. Nicky gasped, a scream caught up in her hands. They slipped down to fumble with a locket, previously unknown to me, which draped down onto her chest, before she brought them to my shoulders.
“Oh, Agnetha, you startled me. I guess we’re all on edge since the murders… Oh! I didn’t mean that!”
Her eyes rolled wild, and she gestured to the flight of stairs that towered behind me.
“Nicky, relax,” I said. “Yes, we’re on edge. Everybody’s been making the same remark- it’s affected them too. Where have you been?”
Nicky’s fingers more furiously fiddled with her pendant. My eyes flicked down, hovering inches away from the dip in her top.
“I went home. I wanted to see my babies after watching poor Ivor go down. You can understand that I’d want to check that they’re safe, right?”
“Yeah, I do get it.” My eyes were still on her golden locket. “What are their names? What’s in that locket?”
“This?” Nicky hummed. “My…husband gave it to me.”
In a swift movement, Nicky had unclasped the piece of jewellery and it was dangling inches from my nose, gleaming triumphantly. She popped it open to reveal pictures, inscribed. The first was sepia, a young woman with ginger locks, a grin and an old-fashioned wedding dress, shining white despite the faux colouring. A young Nicky beamed out at me, batting her eyelids at the miserable, older Nicky beside me. The second picture was dressed in sepia too, but I could make out the dark- black or charred brown- locks, a face gleaming white beneath. Nicky’s late husband had dressed himself in a tuxedo, and wore the same expectant smile as she.
“You look beautiful.” The words tumbled from my lips before I could think.
“I was beautiful, when Dean was alive.”
“What happened?” I asked softly.
“He drowned. He hit his head on the poolside. It was an accident. I…can’t remember the details. I…don’t know what happened. I’d gone inside to get some drinks; when I returned to him, it was too late. We were alone.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
Nicky shrugged, but her eyes became crystalline as she pulled the necklace away from me and clipped it back around her neck, making sure to tuck it back into the layers of her shirt.
“I’m sorry to pry…” I muttered. “You can go back to your house, of course, but I might come around tomorrow to see if you’re okay.”
“There’s no need, really. I actually came back to the hall so that I could have a word with Caroline. Have you seen her recently?”
“No, not recently,” I replied quietly, suddenly overcome.
The sounds of voices trickled across the triangle of corridors again, brisk yet informal in their intonation.
“Oh!” Nicky cried, her expression riddled with surprise as Inspector Simnova rounded a corner, his face grave and intent on listening to whatever wisdom Vladimere had to say. I deduced that they had made their way through the house by the main staircase, down from the bedrooms.
“Inspector!” I called, breaking away from Nicky’s bubble “How is Ivor?”
Having not seen me before I had spoken, the Inspector jumped, but greeted Nicky and I politely all the same. This case was changing, and so was, I gladly noted, the Inspector's opinions of me.
“Miss King, Mrs. Cunningham, I hope everything is all right. Ivor himself is recovering slowly, but surely, Miss King.”
“I was just looking for Carrie,” Nicky intervened. “Is she…?”
Inspector Simnova flushed at the mention of the governess’ name. Embarrassingly, I felt my face burn red too.
“Yes,” he said with a nod, “she’s up in her room.”
“Well, I’d better be off.”
“Of course,” the Inspector nodded his head. “Have a safe journey. Mrs. Cunningham.”
Nicky nodded and began to head off in the direction of the dining room.
“Nicky,” I called, gesturing.
Immediately, she backtracked to my side.
“You were going to go home-”
“Of course. Oh, my mind is everywhere at the moment.”
Having walked in further silence to the front door, we already intended to part ways, despite still walking side by side. My eyes lingered on the grounds and I stopped to survey the snow-capped greenery, letting Nicky trundle on ahead. Even from the front of the house, it was hard to estimate how extensive the land around Karkroff Hall was. Snow hung from the trees in globules, occasionally dripping to the long-tufted grass with a ‘plop’. There were trails that caught my eye as the sun set.
But I needed to get back to the hotel. I turned, pulling my coat tighter around my chest, and kept my eyes on the path ahead, watching the crystallised sequins. It was only in a final glance up at the mansion that I saw her, Caroline, who had been watching me from her place at an upstairs window. Her figure dark, face clouded, I couldn’t tell her mood, but she was certainly not happy in any case. Our eyes clicked, before she swiftly turned away.
I wandered onwards, stopping only to close the exterior gate, that image of Caroline printing on my mind as my boots printed their marks on the snow.