It was lunchtime and I was hungry. Nicky snapped off chunks of chocolate whilst Inspector Simnova watched me intently.
“I don’t want to interview you. You know too much of the existing case.”
“So you do think all this is connected,” I started.
“Certainly. You, of course, are in the middle of it.”
“Stop it! I don’t try to have trouble track me, but it does, even when I just want to holiday in peace.”
“But you never did want this holiday alone, did you?” Whilst Nicky spoke, she began chopping up a celery-like plant, vinyl green, and without any sort of scent. We were resting by the edge of Sokolniki Park, Nicky’s working fingers busied themselves on the bonnet of the police-car that I had been ‘escorted away’ in. I, too, leant against it, whilst the Inspector continued to watch us both from his place at the driver’s door, his trademark trench-coat unbuttoned, his hands eagerly out of their pockets.
We had chanced upon Nicky, her curiosity sparked by the sounds of sirens, complete with her basket of items from the shop. I couldn’t see a set of shops nearby, but I could trust Nicky’s words…especially since my stomach had delighted in the little pack of milk chocolate.
Now I eyed Nicky somewhat darkly. Her salad-and-sandwich was almost complete.
“All right. Let’s go.”
“Wait. What?” Nicky asked, finely slicing her brown bread and folding it over the assortment of celery and leaf-like vegetables that resided inside. It surprised me that she trusted the hygiene of making a sandwich with nothing but a basket between the food and a car; however, it wouldn't have surprised me more if a Russian police department’s car could be super clean.
Inspector Simnova was at the door; he was ready.
“I presume our next destination is the Hall.”
“You’re the one on the case there.”
“And your excuse-”
The Inspector’s eyes narrowed.
“Have you two done quarrelling yet?” said Nicky, her own mouth half full of delicious sandwich-crumbs. She was also beginning to fold all the spare items back into her basket; having dusted off her hands, she was making to head to a car door.
“So much for not rushing and ruining my lunch,” Nicky continued; “we could at least move back to the Hall. I’m sure Marina would be comforted to see your presence again, Agnetha. And Carrie yours, Inspector.”
I pulled a face; surely Carrie was meant to answer to me? Their sudden romance was sickening.
He turned back to me in a sweep.
“Miss King, that was an excuse, wasn’t it? I don’t actually need to interview you, do I?”
I ignored him pointedly, and stepped into the back of the police car, feeling notorious and guilty, after all, I’d never been acquitted from being a teenage delinquent and I didn’t want to start regaining my reputation by having eyes upon my position; I just happened to be travelling in the back of a police-car.
“Where’s your car, Nicky?” I asked as she gripped her basket and slid into the front seat beside the Inspector.
“I don’t drive…” she remarked cryptically, munching on the remaining half of her lunch. There it dared to remind me of my sweet chocolate, and I popped another chunk into my mouth. A microcosm of heaven sprung up for a minute.
Cruising along, I found myself tracing the sites I already knew of; in the corner of my eye, I spotted Sokolnicheskaya Gate soaring past. Soon, and I knew it, too, we were fading from the smoking screen of tourism and solidifying into the quieter district. We’d not long be at the Hall despite my longing to watch my thoughts race past with the scenery. All too quickly, the brakes snapped on and my thoughts were broken, thrust back into my foremost consciousness.
“You’d better come in, then,” Inspector Simnova said to me as he unbuckled his seat-belt and sprung to open my door.
Nicky imitated his action but in her unique take of slow-motion and we met each other at the gate to the Hall. A crowd, battered by the unusual warmth, was beginning to gather for the afternoon tours of Karkroff Hall, all a-chatter, eager to see the interior of close to royalty here in Russia. Nicky and I, being led by the imperious Inspector, pushed our way through to the door, and I was cautiously aware that a multitude of eyes were fixated upon us, the free, instant visitors.
If only my presence was as innocent as they suspected.
In a matter of minutes, Nicky and I had been marched into the empty lounge. I’d far got used to seeing the waiting faces looking to me for information I could little produce from the thin air that I could only shiver at the room laid out bare. Nicky herself nodded at the space seats with complacency and Inspector Simnova settled himself down into an armchair, his arms boldly on the rests, his right foot meticulously placed onto his left knee. As for me, I stood, feet apart, in my usual place at the head of the room. I could almost have been lecturing the truth to my suspects like a miniature, misshapen Poirot! Yet: what suspects?
“I’ll go and look for the others,” Nicky said, a sigh whispering on her lips as if she was replying to my troubled thoughts.
In the shadow of her parting, my stomach gave a rumble once again; the Inspector cast his eyes in my direction- just a flash- before that common smirk decorated his face.
“Lunch, Miss King? I could make you something from the kitchen.”
“Just some crisps will be fine. I don’t want any fuss.”
Swiftly, the Inspector folded himself out of his seat and headed off in the direction of that dreadful table and mini-kitchen. My mind lingered in my eyes, overseeing the emptiness of the lounge once again in the way that the air was missing my lungs. I closed my eyes to fight the nerves, breathing in once so that the next draught of oxygen was not missed. Soon the room and I were cold in the world.
The ticking of a clock tucked away in the curves of the room’s furniture began to grind into my mind; despite its steady rhythm, which would have previously had some calming effect on me, the ticking did its best to district me from the remainder of my thoughts, every knock against my tired mind. I’d almost set off to find it, eyeing the ornate decoration across the edges of mirrors, when a sharp voice roused me.
“So. You’re back.”