I had no idea how the day was going to flow. Breakfast finished in a flash of the rising sun, despite how hungry we had been. The sky lit up like a candle in the morning fresh, giving the best of the weather I had experienced since my arrival in Russia.
“The weather is often odd here,” Carrie pointed out to me and, oddly, to Elsie as well. We nodded in unison and continued munching on our pain au chocolates.
Today opened up like a gift to me, but, unlike the other hap-hazardous days, there were no comings and goings. I sat for a while in a nonsense discussion with the rest of the table, who could all speak even a little Russian, except for me. Elsie and Ivor sat blank-faced either side of me; in spite of the flickering of pupils that proved they knew what lines of speech rattled from Russian to English and back. On the other side of the seating, Marina’s lips were never closed and she swapped between the two languages faster than I could recognise. In English, I understood little of her petty ramblings as far from murder and politics as they could be. Conversely, she beamed in polite happiness, some grand epithet of future joy that might well come to her but not her dear brother.
That annoyed me, as much as my logical brain protested otherwise. Although happiness was Marina’s born right, mourning constantly for days after her brother’s slaughter was the other intent right. Neither topped the other, but I knew which I was more inclined to see her doing, in faith.
Due to the latter discontentment, I couldn't afford to partake of the foreign nonsense. I sat, fingers somewhat tipped towards my chin, thinking of the ‘case’, of Petre Rusav and of murder. Murder at breakfast, of all things! For once, I wanted to reach out to the Inspector’s opinion, even though I could not yet tell him of Elsie’s confession.
I missed the vital pieces I groped for like a banister in the dark halls of school. Once again, I was stuck between what I knew and what should have been an answer, but the information had cleverly disguised itself into rubbish. Just as when, during the ‘investigation’ into Mr. Craig’s death I had walked into the wall time and time again, this time of blank paper ran between the spaces of my timid mind; I swelled with queries about the non existence of truth within my mental eyes. Indeed, I had ventured past the naïve sessions of writing down my confusions, my suspects, my motives; nevertheless, as chatter rose and fell in waves of volume around me, I became the silent teenager, losing myself in my own maze of a mind that pushed to try and affix events together. There was too big a gap – a lack of crucial evidence – to go from supposition to proof of a chemical theory, and that theory I could not invest my confidence in, either.
Thus, when the conversation eventually died away, I failed to notice that I was the only one still sitting. That was, until Marina jammed her elbow into one of my ribs.
“Wake up, Agnetha. Daydreaming shouldn’t be a side-effect of those pills.”
“I wasn’t…” I mumbled, rubbing my eyes in the meanwhile.
Caroline let out a half-hearted sigh. “I’ll wash the dishes up.” I wasn’t sure if she was teasing her employers or not.
“That leaves me free to look after the children, then,” Maripose beamed.
“I shall come, too,” Mr. Karkroff said stiffly. Before his wife’s confused expression could draw blood, he added: “I’ve nothing else to do. Besides, I’d rather two people remain by Ivor’s side, just in case.” There was a darkness to his voice that I’d never heard before. And his wife could do nothing about it but be delighted. I allowed myself a tentative smirk into the dish I was hanging up to Carrie.
“Good. That leaves Agnetha and I to chat in the lounge,” Marina said. “Don’t worry, Miss King,” she added superfluously to me. “There’s no doubt we’ll think of some way to pass the time.”
What? What code was Marina trying to spin me?
As the other three adults passed through the former servant’s kitchen and back up the staircase that would take them back into their civilised part of society (though I believed that, once again, Carrie made hers a different way so that she could clean the plates accordingly), Marina took my hand aside and whispered to me:
“Now we can discuss your theories without interruption.”
Since when did my position become so tantalising? I was received as Private Detective, not any Russian import of house-guest.
Instead of voicing my angst, I muttered “sure” and allowed her to storm off, whilst I passed the time wondering how I would keep her quiet as I attempted to put an end to the ball of string. Her bubbliness, too, kept the smile off my features and the scowl on.
I wandered back into the front room, Marina already ahead of me; for a minute, it felt as if I had actually been left alone, but there the singer was again, standing at the back of the room as she gazed into the snow-glistened garden. On hearing my footsteps stop, she turned. In the bright light refracting through three panes, I was able to study her face properly. Yes, it was full of the tired and worn expression, but Marina had not been crying recently. The pills were doing their job nicely, despite how greatly I despised her using them.
“Oh, how terrible this all is,” she muttered eventually and suddenly: there was the quake in her voice, carefully hidden by the vocal makeup she had applied to trick her hosts. Even in her final tired state, she shone beautifully like a diamond.
“I am sorry, Marina. I’m sorry that neither Inspector Simnova nor I have done more.”
Suddenly, her arms were around me, smothering all my sense of distance. “It’s okay, Agnetha. I know you’ve tried. I just don’t want to cast any more gloom onto the Karkroffs right now. You understand?”
I smelt the strong Lavender in her perfume, metallic scents too. We pulled away and both turned back to the window. I pointed out at the terrain, meaning nothing by an off-hand gesture.
“Of course, I do. I’m the Detective, remember.” Through giggles, I took my place in one of the armchairs. Thinking not of the mystery, a new idea popped into my head: here I was with a pop-star! “Miss Rusav, you wouldn’t think it out of place if I ask for an autograph? It’s not for me, though your singing is nice; my brother is a big fan.”
For the first time since I had met her, Marina’s grin was true and warm. “Of course! Do you have paper?”
I grabbed a piece of rough paper from the pad I had seen lying discarded on a table, and she quickly signed her hand over it.
“Thank you,” I said, slipping the piece into my pocket. At least my brother would be happy.