My head was full of many inconveniences. Trudging back through the snow to the different dark of the Hall, many mysteries made weight on my mind. I shrugged to release the lead weights, but was still fighting by the time I let myself back into the Hall.
Once again, the triangular junction in the building caught me by surprise. I should have paid heed to the clatter of feet from the right, a Russian voice no longer clouded with tears accompanying it. I should have sensed the hemming in of persons, but, by that time, it was too late.
“Oh,” the voices chorused as I swerved out of Caroline’s way. Despite our recent forthcomings – or maybe because of them – we both winced, leading into a dance of complicated footwork.
I was happy to see Elsie beside her brother. She nodded and I blushed. Finally, after all this time, she had pronounced my name with efficiency rather than broken stutters. I allowed for a secret smile that I was sure she, too, saw.
“Aggie! How have you been?” As she spoke, Carrie began to play with strands of her hair, nervous at my presence, I supposed.
“I’m all right. I’ve been busy. Have you been doing lessons still? What happened to Mrs. Karkroff?”
“It’s my job. Mrs. Karkroff had to pop off somewhere, so she left the children with me again. I don’t know where Mr. Karkroff is, but he trusts me.”
I rubbed my palms against each other. “That’s nice.”
Carrie’s eyebrows twitched, yet she said nothing of my impudence. “How are the…investigations?”
I gestured, brushing away her comment with a flick of the hand. I didn’t want any more talk of this silly investigation. Nicky’s cold revelations had turned me far against the calculating of evil. I was about to turn away, because I deemed that everything had been said, regretfully, between we two, when I caught sight of Carrie’s face.
It morphed. I blinked, the face of Josh fresh in my mind, as Carrie’s face switched into his for another second.
I could no longer help missing him. I just kept seeing him over and over again in my mind. Giving his trademark glare, normally accompanied with ‘Agnetha, I’m not sure about this’. When we had been friends, he had always been the cautious one, knowing of his position’s insecurity. After all, I was still his student at the skeleton of things. Now, when I really needed someone to support me, Josh was nowhere to be found. So, in his place, I was making faces up out of my other friend.
Whispering Russian to the children, who proceeded to scamper away, Carrie leant forward and shook my arm. The jolts ran, electric, through my entire body. I scowled, pulling away. Any silence of my room would be better than this.
“What happens now, Agnetha?” Carrie persisted. She, too, must have sensed the awkwardness between us. I swallowed. The pulsing in my temples threatened to engorge at her words.
“I can gather a group of them if you like –?”
“Agnetha, where are you going?” (For I was still trying to escape her.) “Don’t forget what you should be doing.”
I shot her down with one simple look. “I hope you’re not referring to my case. I’m not your jester or greenhorn to bother each time I want to settle down for a rest.”
Carrie ran her hands through her hair again. “All right. I was just asking. You know, it’s been almost a week; when Josh died you were on top of the case non-stop, as if it meant the very world to you!”
“I’m not the person you think I am!” I yelled. “This ‘world’ is different to Oxford city.”
“Then who are you? You shouldn’t have an element, Agnetha. You’re a detective.”
“And that’s who you think I am,” I whispered. Raising my voice to her high eyebrows, I added furiously, “So, living in Oxford is my ‘element’, is it? I’m not so one-sided as you think.”
“Then don’t blame the Russians for your ignorance.”
I blinked. Did she really just say what I think she did? “Ignorant! That’s what you think of me.”
Caroline let her weight fall against the banister. She winced. “Don’t be so ridiculous!”
I sighed and watched her breathless exhaustion. It hurt me to think she would let our friendship be defeated so easily. I thought Ms. Peterson was better than that.
“Carrie….” But no other words would make themselves present as I crossed the floor to her.
Carrie’s big hazel eyes searched mine. “What is wrong with us? We should be fighting the evil in this house, not fighting each other –”
“—And yet we always end up in the midst of an argument. I’m sorry, Carrie, you’re right. I’ve been dwindling for too long.”
“No, you’ve been tackling a tough case,” she reasoned. “I shouldn’t expect these things to be easy.”
Mr. Karkroff’s office was behind us. It caught my eye. I gestured that Carrie follow me in. From the bare walls to the unassuming floor, it was still the same office that it had ever been, but my mind wished to search out each excruciating detail, however irrelevant to my heart. I swept across the ceiling, from the five pieces of sticky-tack that clung to the wall in the absence of an old picture, to the curve of the leather chairs we sunk into.
“Oh, to be an employer,” mused Carrie. She twitched her hands, as if she wanted to shape the table like clay.
It was from there that I identified the little nicks from before – and it was my act of staring at those little marks from my place that triggered untold memories.
“First off, Agnetha,” Carrie was saying, “I want you to know that just because I have a fondness for Misha, doesn’t mean I trust his intellect over yours –”
“Wait, Carrie –”
“Let me finish –”
“No. Before we go on: can we swap sides?” I stared at the marks, desperately trying to grasp at the conversations I had once had in this exact room.
“I have an idea. I mean, I’m not valuing our conversation less, but there’s something about the case that I remember….”
“Oh?” Nevertheless, Carrie did as instructed and we were soon facing each other in the opposite pattern. There again, I was able to flick through the faces of the individuals I had interviewed. It was an age ago. What was this piece I was missing? Who had been concealing more than two inspectors’ worth of knowledge?
Opposite me, Caroline took a deep breath. “Okay.”
“Carrie, please let’s not mention the Inspector any longer. I think he’s doing well with whatever he does here. I’m happy to say we’re not enemies.”
“Really?” she said.
I grinned at her goofily. “He hasn’t accused you of murder yet. That’s a start.”
Caroline giggled and then sighed to herself, neat fingers tapping again. This time, I cleared my throat. But then I decided against it, puzzled, angry and bewildered all at the same time. It was Carrie who had made me feel inadequate and left out; so surely she should pay?