Following Carrie’s instructions, I squeezed through the opening door, and walked over to the Karkroff’s second fountain, it hidden in a cluster of evergreens, all dusted with snow. Sure enough, there was Nicky, red-eyed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, not bothering to tiptoe around the lady. I was cold in this brisk evening, and the chill had reached my tongue, too.
Nicky glared at me. I took my place by her left.
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
“You’re sobbing, Nicky. You can’t lie to me.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She broke into a new wave of despair.
“Okay. I’m a detective. I can work these things out… You’re…in love with Mr. Karkroff?”
“No,” we chorused together. It was too unlikely a case.
“You were in love with Petre Rusav?” I suggested, to which Nicky shot a dirty look. “Okay, I’ll take that as a no. How about…you…care very much for Ivor-?”
“Oh, please!” Nicky finally cried, aggravated by my searching. “My eldest daughter is missing, that’s what. And before you make a supposition that it’s about your silly case, I’ll already answer your question. My darling Del is gone!”
“Do you mean Delaina Sael?” I gasped, despite myself. I hadn’t begun to think of anything like that.
Fresh sobs answered me. Now I knew that the mother of three was a mother of four.
“I was sixteen, your age, and head-over-heels in love with the first man that looked that way at me. That was all he ever actually cared for: my body. His wife had become ugly when bearing two children, and now the man wanted something more. And so life had handed me an unattainable partner. When he wanted to end the affair, he admitted that he had never shared my feelings. So, he went back to his sweet life, his wife a gorgeous blur again, but I couldn’t return to my own, finding myself pregnant.”
“And you gave Del away?”
“I had no choice.” Nicky nodded. “I gave her a Russian forename, knowing it was right to keep her here in the country of her amazing father, and I took her to the orphanage on the outskirts of Moscow; I think, perhaps, now it has been reformed into an art-museum. The…adoption was one of the reasons my parents moved us back to England. They didn’t want me ever contacting my estranged daughter. But when they died, they couldn’t stop me. Dean was on my side. He searched when his job took him into Europe, whilst I stayed at home to care for my new children; I was not going to let them go. When Dean’s accident happened, I moved out here so I could find Delaina and reveal myself to her, but, by the time I knew who she was, this tragedy happened.
“If only the orphanage was still there, I would have found her so much quicker! A happy, healthy young…baby.” Another volley of sobs rocked Nicky’s body. “The last thing that could have led me to my Delaina, and the government had…demolished it!”
I passed Nicky a frozen tissue from the pocket of my favourite jeans, letting the lady lean on me for a couple of minutes whilst she cried.
“Thank you for telling me this, Mrs. Cunningham. It will help, I promise you. And I will find Del for you.”
“Promises are not action. They won’t help you discover who took my D-Delaina.”
I gently pushed her away, my own mind reeling with the information of the last couple of days.
“Delaina was kidnapped on the night of Petre’s murder, yes…? He was on the beat…”
I hadn’t realised I had spoken out loud. Nicky was suddenly furious.
“You're not supposing that I’d kidnap my own daughter?” she snapped. “You are just the same as that Inspector!”
My eyes turned to slits in the moonlight. Against the Inspector’s good sense, I credited her words, watching as the woman’s skin flexed colder against the eerie light.
“No, of course not, Nicky. I was supposing something entirely different.”
“Well! There’s no doubt that she’s linked to Petre Rusav’s death. They, together, on the same night…”
“I don’t think they were ‘together’,” I pointed out.
That’s true; who does know?
“I kept in touch with her adopted parents before they passed away,” Nicky continued in a trembling manner. “She was a handful, insecurely-attached, said the psychiatrist mother, had bad blood, said the strong-willed father. I guess they were right in the end; I have got bad blood.”
“Nicky! Don’t say that!” I cried.
“I’m bipolar I, recently diagnosed. Did your investigating brain figure that one out?” A sneer crossed her face. For once, however, I let myself be mocked.
“No. I’m sorry, Nicky. I had no idea.”
“You didn’t. You didn’t even see my pain. Those ever-changing moods brought down by the triggers of this household have haunted me. I hate,” she spat the words out now, “I hate all this talk of murder. I murdered my daughter by all of my actions. I hate this investigation and the depression it’s forcing me into.”
“Nicky… I did see. That’s why I’m here. Please don’t be bitter, I’m doing all I can to solve this. Sometimes my intuition can be off-mark, but I ask that you try and help the investigation.”
“I’ve told you everything I know.”
“Have you? I challenged.
Nicky shrugged, her expression muted. She got up, suddenly wooden.
“Have you, Nicky?” I called into the night, as Nicola Cunningham hurried away, pushing through the trees on her way back across the street and back to her home. I was left hidden in the garden as snowflakes began to pour from the night sky.