XIV.3

Her face was reflected in the mirror above me. But aside from the way she had folded her slender arms across her curved body, there was no other sign to show that she was truly irritated with me. Nevertheless, I kept my eyes determinedly focused on the mirror, not the governess who was standing behind me.

“Carrie, yeah, I am...”

Instantly, her face softened, and I knew that the scowl had been another of her games. Internally, I boiled with anger at her tricks, that she had chosen to test me, but, using my moral satellite-navigation, I knew that I deserved it.

“I’m glad... I’m sorry, Aggie, for the way I behaved.”

“No.” I spun around to confront her. “I’m sure you were doing what you thought was right. Did the swabs test positive?”

“Swabs?” Carrie exclaimed, blushing bright. After a moment of gulping in air, she replied, “yes...it was definitely cyanide.”

“You’re a young Jane Marple with twenty-first century equipment.”

“That enough,” she said with a blush.

It did stop me, that tone. She had used her governess voice on me, the final necessary proof that I had actually upset her by impinging on her pride. It was that pride that stopped her from revealing the truth of her pain.

“What are you...?” Carrie muttered, sliding herself into one of the leather chairs in the way she used to.

“I’m waiting.” I nodded, still watching her, still positioned with my back to the mirror. For a second, I felt imperious. “Nicky’s gone to get the others- and Ivor...” I became away how quiet she was being, her eyes glinting with some subtle ferocity. “The Inspector has gone to the kitchen to get me a pack of crisps.”

“Oh?” And now Carrie leant forward, and both her crow’s feet and her eyes lit up.

“If ever you forget-” I began, but felt Carrie’s attention slip as Simnova entered; indeed, my own voice slipped into my throat before I could mention Joshua’s name again. This lack of influence shocked me, so I finally turned and placed myself on the sofa, hurt that Carrie might be forgetting the reasons we’d first met, the who, why and where of our lives. It was as if she’d left it all behind in just two years.

Ahead of me, Carrie was embracing the Inspector. I grimaced, but in a second they had finished, even though the girlish look of glee would not cease to show on Carrie’s face.

A minute more and there was a quick rap at the door as Nicky returned with Mrs. Karkroff and Elsie, their eyes not yet at wit’s end, in spite of the gloom that hid beneath lids.

Marina emerged from the pane of a door behind Carrie, boots half crushed with snow of the garden from which she had made her way. Her long hair had been pulled up into a ponytail, where, pushed behind her left ear, the blonde mass dropped thickly down into the curve of her jacket. Too, Marina was beginning to pull of her mittens, encrusted with a layer of subtle dirt, creeping about the curve of her fingers.

“Dobryj den, everybody,” she remarked as she wandered in, as if she no inkling of my motive for being here.

“Agnetha?” It began to dawn on her soon though. “I thought you were taking some time off.”

I stood, abruptly pushing myself towards her.

“I am... I mean: I was. There have been...some developments.” I shot a glance at the Inspector, to warn him that he should say nothing until I would have the time to myself.

Eventually, piece by piece and body by body, my ‘suspects’ began to assemble themselves. Richard sauntered in from upstairs, with a light smile on his face, muttering to the room at large:

“The doctor thinks that Ivor’s gonna be fine. Gustaf is up there now, looking after the boy. When he heard that we were needed, he said to send his respects down. Especially to you, Miss King. He won’t be leaving his son’s side for a while yet, though.”

I nodded to him as he shuffled down onto the sofa beside Marina when she had taken her place. Quickly, I counted them up.

“Where’s Vladimere?”

“He had to rush off to political business, apparently. He did mention to tell you to call if he’s needed. He seems very interested to solve this mystery as part of our group.”

“Sure...” Marina muttered to him as she tucked her legs up under her. Although pale, she didn’t seem all that cold, just in a fluster over the depth of the events.

Having turned away from the superstar, I checked that I had caught the entire interest of those gathered. This reveal was going to be important, and I needed to make a Poirot-inspired announcement. That wasn’t going to happen, but I could always hope for some sort of miracle there. Nicky was chewing at her nails; Mrs. Karkroff had her hand resting firmly over Elsie’s, as if she dared not let the young woman go; at the other end of the room, Carrie and the Inspector became separate entities when they released their hands, and within a minute, a packet of crisps landed on the carpet under me, which I happily clawed open.

Between crunchy mouthfuls, I made my way back to the mirror, the only firm wall in the room, where exits made their place both behind and in front of the household. Instead, I let them lean towards me, by the towering pool of reflection, speculating in their own minds.

“What are we doing here?” Mrs. Karkroff demanded of Caroline, to which she received a humble and downtrodden shrug.

“I saw movement, I came in,” Marina was telling an intrigued Richard. He nodded, but his reply was clouded in undertone, and I missed it in one crunch.

“Yeah, it helps me relax,” Marina responded, her semi-operatic voice easily resonating over to me.

There was something rather unsettled about the singer, however. She tried to settle her fingers, but all they would do was dance about her clavicle and the tips of her ponytail.

Brushing off the delicious crumbs of crisps from the remainder of the packet, I stood tall again, flushing pink as the eyes turned upon me again. I couldn’t deny the lack of comfort for me in the limelight, with so many eyes focusing in my direction. In epiphany before my GCSE exams, I had seen that I was not born to perform- especially not like this- but that I had been made better for hiding and sneaking around the background. So much for that Music course, then.

“The Inspector and I-” I shot a glare at the Inspector; for all his usefulness, he hadn’t come to me side to support me. “-we’ve found…another corpse, here in Moscow, in a little, ruined church. And by that, I mean a corpse that was not meant to be in that little, ruined church.”

As I watched the occupants of the sitting room give each other shocked and worried expressions, I wondered at why my voice was shaking so much, for this discovery was nothing new. In a way, worry for my mother was presence in my system- but she was in the trusted hands of my brother, and in her little tourist bubble, oblivious. Thank God.

“Inspector Simnova, you seem to know more about this than me. Would you like to…?”

He strode over to me, but there was something of the deep hesitance about his movements.

“The deceased was Don Krumm,” he began, sweeping his jacket around himself as he spoke. “He was a politician about ten years ago, and already a prominent figure.”

“Yes. Did anyone know him?” I added, staring them all down.

“Petre and I did,” Marina said. Suddenly, she shook, her relaxed poise completely washed away by the portrayal of her mourning.

“Final, a link!” I announced, exasperated, before realising. “Wait, what?”

The End

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