Chapter 1: Whodunit
Flynn has remarked, more than once, that playing Risk is hardly a recreational activity in their current situation. Wyatt’s rote rejoinder is that Monopoly can be arranged. So, between the two battered (“Vintage!” insists Lucy) board games in the bunker, they end up, almost invariably, with the former.
“Come along, everyone,” says Connor. “Council of war.”
Jiya picks herself up from the floor with a grimace. “But Da-ad! I was about to win a land war in Asia!”
Connor stops in his tracks. “I don’t recall adopting you, young lady.”
“I’m with him,” says Jiya, stretching out a hand to help Rufus to his feet. “Close enough.”
“God,” says Connor, almost reverently. “And I thought I had avoided such entanglements.”
Flynn is methodically gathering the game pieces. “Don’t tell me it’s taken you this long to figure it out.”
“Until I am reunited with the Mothership,” rejoins Connor with dignity, “product of my not inconsiderable genius, as well as my quite considerable wealth, I consider that you owe me conciliatory respect to the point of groveling.”
“Gentlemen, please,” says Lucy, but she cannot keep the smile out of her voice.
“Right,” says Denise, effectively gathering their attention. “I need everyone on top form, because we’re going on the offensive.” Both Wyatt and Flynn stand straighter; Rufus squeezes Jiya’s hand. “We have information from Jessica Logan, and we know where Rittenhouse is going. So you’re going to be there too.”
“I have a bad feeling about this,” mutters Rufus, and Jiya shushes him.
Denise sighs. “Apparently,” she says, “it’s murder on the Orient Express.”
“Please tell me,” says Wyatt, “that we are not preventing the murder of a fictional character.”
Connor raises his eyebrows. “Next, Sergeant, you’ll be telling me you don’t believe that Sherlock Holmes retired to keep bees in Sussex after serving in British military intelligence during the First World War.”
Wyatt opens his mouth, and shuts it again.
“Connor,” says Denise warningly. He smirks, but inclines his head in a bow.
“Maybe this is a world without Agatha Christie?” suggests Jiya uncertainly. “I mean, where she didn’t write most of the books?”
Flynn frowns. “That wouldn’t be good; her work inspires research on identifying poisons, laws making it harder for the public to acquire dangerous substances.”
“It figures,” says Rufus, “that the one time you know about a normal person thing, you know about it for the creepiest reason possible.”
“We don’t know the target, officially,” says Denise. “But I think Agatha Christie is a safe working assumption.”
“Who’s the agent?” interjects Wyatt. “Do we know?”
“No details,” says Denise. “But Jessica says that he was involved in another case in the ’30s, and in framing someone else for it. This bit was overheard, so it’s patchy, but she has a name: Hauptmann. Lucy? Are you all right?”
“Um,” says Lucy. She has subsided onto the arm of the couch. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine, it’s just…”
“This cannot be good,” says Rufus.
“Hauptmann,” says Lucy. “Hauptmann. If that’s who I think it is — and the Orient Express, of course, it all makes sense.”
“For the rest of us?” It is Connor who says it.
Lucy shakes herself imperceptibly, braces her hands on either side of her. “The Lindbergh kidnapping,” she says, almost tonelessly. “1932. The evidence was… pretty damning, but of course Rittenhouse could have been involved. There was always speculation about the involvement of another man. And Hauptmann had a history of crime; he’d have been easy to recruit.”
“So,” says Wyatt, with more amusement than impatience, “for those of us whose high school history classes consisted of ‘And here’s how we won this war…’ ”
“You paid attention in your high school history classes?”
“Very funny, Rufus.”
Lucy takes a deep breath. She raises her eyes to Flynn’s face. “1932. Lindbergh is a hero, a celebrity, and a future Nazi sympathizer. He and his wife have one son, a toddler. Charles Jr. And he’s kidnapped. His parents are at home at the time. The kidnappers leave a ransom note. It… it was a massive investigation. I won’t go into details: media frenzy, appeals to gangsters. But the details were always strange.” Lucy hugs herself. “In the end, the... the body was found by accident, or apparent accident. He’d been dead for months. He’d been dead while his parents had been receiving ransom demands.”
Flynn passes a hand over his mouth. “And yet we aren’t preventing that.”
“No,” says Lucy. “No, we’re too late. But Hauptmann wasn’t electrocuted until 1936; it was a long trial, and it was appealed. He took it all the way to the Supreme Court — maybe we’re trying to change that? But I don’t see…”
Flynn swallows. “If Lindbergh knows that Rittenhouse is responsible for his son’s murder…”
“Yeah,” says Lucy softly. “Maybe.”
“But you guys have already dealt with Lindbergh,” says Jiya.
“On opposite sides,” says Wyatt grimly.
“I couldn’t change his mind,” says Lucy. “We… we haven’t dealt with Lindbergh; he’s still Rittenhouse; I thought I could change that, but I couldn’t.”
“Lucy,” says Flynn, but she shakes her head, and he falls silent.
“Right,” says Denise again. “Orient Express, Calais coach, December 1934. Rufus, Lucy, Flynn, and Connor.”
“But — ” begins Wyatt.
“Exactly how much do you know about the social codes of cosmopolitan elites of the interwar period, Wyatt? Besides,” adds Denise, more gently, “I want you here. I hope we can keep using Jessica as a double agent, but an emergency extraction is always a possibility.”
“Ma’am.” There is a rather tense silence.
“So,” says Rufus. “Apparently we’re going to be part of a whodunit now. Let me guess: I get to be the butler.”
Chapter 2: Istanbul
In somewhat expositional fashion, the Time Team gets to Istanbul.
“Well,” says Wyatt, “I never thought I’d be reading lists of Agatha Christie characters off the internet, but here we are.”
“I have the novel for character descriptions,” adds Jiya.
“This and engineering time travel!”
“Thank you, my love. So… I’m presuming you’re not actually posing as fictional characters.”
“No,” says Lucy a little abstractedly, fingering a wool suit. “We’re finding approximations. To figure out how to dress.”
“American secretary, aspiring actor? Valet and… batman, whatever that is?”
“Rufus,” says Lucy. “I’m sorry, Rufus, but I think you’ll have to do it: it’ll let you get close to the agent — presuming Ratchett is the Rittenhouse agent — and in a position of trust. Personal servant during the war, by the way.”
“I like how you’ve already started saying ‘the War’ like we’re all super traumatized and in denial about the fact that, oh yeah, there’s going to be another one,” says Rufus. “Also, don’t worry about it. But the apology is appreciated.” Lucy smiles at him.
“Focus, mutual admiration society!” says Wyatt. “An English colonel. Place bets on the stiffness of his upper lip.”
“Well,” says Flynn, “there’s an obvious choice.”
Connor scoffs. “You are all,” he says, “charmingly and dangerously deluded in presuming that I could pretend to military acumen. Moreover, that presumes that I would be remotely plausible as a commissioned officer in His Majesty’s Army ca. 1934.”
“The League of Nations,” says Lucy. “You could be from the League of Nations. All we need is an Englishman, distinguished but not aristocratic.”
“She deals in types,” says Wyatt, “which might be why she’s called the Queen of Crime. Hey,” he adds, “don’t look so surprised. However many billions of copies she’s sold, a lot of them are getting worn out in base libraries.”
“Fascinating,” says Flynn; Wyatt, without animus, flips him off.
“A diplomat,” pursues Lucy, “from the League of Nations. It gives you a reason to be there. It gives you a reason to know Flynn, or to get to know him. And no one really understands what the League of Nations does… people are more likely to cut your explanations off than to grill you about the technicalities of what you do.”
Connor sighs theatrically. “Now there’s a novelty.”
“Colonel Arbuthnot is ‘lean of figure, brown of skin,’” Jiya puts in brightly. “And then there’s the English governess: thin, pale, competent, ‘tidy dark hair,’ good-looking but ‘too cold and efficient to be described as pretty.’ What the hell, Agatha Christie?”
“Oh, internalized misogyny,” sighs Lucy. “Anyway, that can be me.”
“I thought you were being married to Flynn!” says Jiya. The latter coughs, and becomes absorbed in examining a rack of scarves.
“Count Andrenyi,” says Wyatt, “Hungarian diplomat. You wouldn’t have to explain the accent.”
“He’s the only one not directly connected with the crime,” pursues Wyatt, “but he acts for his wife, in order to keep her from suspicion.” Flynn glances sharply at him. “Also she suffers from claustrophobia and, uh… it says here ‘fits.’”
“Women’s fragile nerves,” says Lucy wryly.
“‘A beautiful young woman, perfectly dressed in the latest fashion,’” quotes Jiya with relish. “Pale skin, large brown eyes. ‘Poirot could not take his eyes off her…’ Is that creepy?”
“Fine,” says Lucy. “It makes sense for two of us to be in the same berth.”
“And you get to wear Schiaparelli,” says Jiya.
“Shut up, Cagney,” says Lucy; but she smiles.
Rufus exhales. “When we get back,” he says, “I am making you all look at a topographic map of Istanbul so that you can congratulate me properly.”
“We’re already impressed,” says Flynn softly. Connor is already fumbling for the door. As he half-scrambles over the frame, Lucy smiles unsteadily at Flynn.
“I don’t miss those early days.”
“No,” he agrees. And he unfolds himself from his chair and, once on the ground, reaches for Lucy with a gesture that has become habit.
Lucy steps away from him, and surveys their surroundings: the chaos of the dockyard, the sight and smell of the sea. “Rufus,” she breathes, “you’re a genius.”
“Aww, thanks! You’re not so bad yourself.”
“I think,” says Lucy, “that we’re near the headquarters of the Maritime Administration. All we have to do is get away from here without being seen, and then we can walk up to the Hotel Tokatliyan.”
“I do appreciate,” says Connor, “that this promises to be one journey where I can live in the style to which I am all-too-rapidly becoming unaccustomed.”
“Yes,” says Lucy swiftly. “Now. There’s a new tourists’ lounge around here somewhere. We can go in there first, reconnoiter, pick up some maps, buy some postcards. We could even pretend to meet each other.”
“I could ask you for help with my Turkish,” suggests Rufus to Connor. “Which, by the way, is non-existent.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” says Connor; “they’re sure to speak French.”
“Then I’ll ask you for help with my French.”
Connor chuckles. “I’ll be impressed by your sheer pluck. Flynn, I suppose you and I are meeting later. Old acquaintances, chance-met… or are we distant colleagues en route to the same top-secret conference in Paris?”
“The conference. People don’t like coincidences.”
“Good. All right then,” says Connor. “Half a league, half a league, half a league onward.” And he saunters out of the dockyard like a man born to possess the world.
“You know I love the guy,” says Rufus, “but there are times when I have no idea what he’s saying.”
“Tennyson,” says Lucy. “It’s about a doomed mission.”
“Cheerful. Glad I asked.” Rufus pulls his hat low over his forehead. “See you guys later.”
Flynn holds out his arm. “Lucy?”
“Yes.” She stumbles only slightly as they make their way to even ground. “After the war,” says Lucy, “this was a city of refugees. Russians, Armenians, Muslims from the Balkans and the Crimea, Jews from everywhere. The occupying forces tried to partition the region, of course.”
“Which worked as well as it always has.”
“Exactly. National self-determination looked awfully simple from Versailles. Or Wilson chose to believe it did, anyway. And the city was occupied for five years. Kemal was organizing resistance by 1919.” She smiles. “But… this is a nervous city. The republic is barely a decade old. Kemal won’t be Atatürk until next year. And modernization…” Lucy falls silent as they pass a water-seller and his donkey, alone on the sun-flooded avenue. “Well. Some identities always get left out. You can’t just… change the calendar and the laws and what people wear, just like that. I mean, he did.” Lucy stops, leans her arms against the wall overlooking the sea. “Sorry.”
“Oh.” She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “Going into lecture mode.”
“And why would you apologize for that, Professor?”
Lucy glances up at him; he appears to be perfectly serious. After a few moments’ silence, she says: “Would you mind if... Could we stay here for a bit? I know we have to go into the tourist center and…”
“Thank you.” Something flickers in his expression at that; she decides it would be risky to pursue it. “I’d just…” Lucy takes a deep breath. “I’d just like to be in the open a little while longer.”
Information about the tourist center can be found here: https://archives.saltresearch.org/handle/123456789/1673
Chapter 3: Count and Countess Andrenyi
The next chapter will thicken the plot more. This is all angst and atmosphere.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Do you suppose,” muses Lucy, “that we were attacked by bandits in the Caucasus?”
“Well,” says Lucy, nodding towards the suitcase at Flynn’s feet, “a count and countess can hardly live respectably out of that, can they?”
He picks up the case, and offers her his other arm. “No.”
It is the work of a few moments to obtain a plan de ville from the Seyr-i Sefain, the work of a few minutes more to obtain advice on which shops to patronize. The clerk expresses resigned outrage at the unrest in the provinces, Flynn murmurs placatory French, and then they are back in the sunshine again.
Not for the first time, Lucy wishes that they didn’t have the work of stopping Rittenhouse as their reason for time travel. If they are not in the oldest district of Constantinople, she thinks, they must be close to it. Walking inland means that the Süleymaniye Mosque looms over them, the houses and shops of the Third Hill spilling beneath it. Under other circumstances, Istanbul — this ancient city in a new republic — would be a historian’s field day. Under other circumstances, Istanbul would be romantic.
“I’m not sure we’ve been entirely respectable before,” continues Lucy, to distract herself from her own thoughts. “Always a little bit on the edges, or on the front lines. Or both.”
“Yes. Lucy,” says Flynn, a little too suddenly. “If we — if there is danger — ”
“There’s always danger.”
“Please,” says Flynn. “You will let me… protect you. If it comes to that.”
It won’t. Of course. Of course not. You shouldn’t. I’m perfectly capable… Lucy momentarily tightens her grip on his arm. The avenue is becoming too populous for her to stop and take his hands in hers, pretended marriage or no. “Yes,” says Lucy simply; and she feels him relax.
They have taken several more steps before he says, in a voice that is almost steady: “Thank you.” Lucy does not look at his face.
The title of ‘Count’ and the name of the Hotel Tokatliyan exercise their power, and so the shopping expedition is remarkably successful. Most of their clothes are even legally purchased… and Lucy, tactfully, does not inquire as to how Flynn acquired his Turkish currency. The men he asked for directions were both prosperous and sneering; if there were others in the Seyr-i Sefain with lightened pocketbooks, she’s sure they were similarly deserving. She and Flynn scandalize the shop attendants, of course. But Flynn explains in fluid if accented French that his wife is — hélas! — of a nervous temperament.
“Well,” says Lucy at last, when they are seated in the Grand Bazaar, listening to a tanbur player, “mission accomplished, I think.”
“Yes.” He is still tense, she knows, and vigilant; but an onlooker would not sense it, she thinks. He has folded his legs as close to the café table as possible; his knees rest above the level of its inlaid brass surface. Lucy still struggles not to envy the fact that he appears to be genuinely enjoying his coffee. The grounds get stuck in her teeth.
Lucy leans half-across the table, and whispers: “I think I prefer yours.” He glances at her, startled. “Don’t worry,” she continues; “I won’t say it aloud.”
“Good. Bismillah Awaluhu wa Akhiruhu.”
“ ‘In the name of Allah, at its beginning and at its end.’ It’s… a prayer,” says Flynn. “For the success of our endeavors, I suppose.”
Lucy lets out a breath. “Can’t hurt.”
“Come,” says Flynn. “I’ll buy you flowers from a baroness.” And so she puts her hand in his, and they go.
“Why,” asks Lucy, when they are safely alone on a boat, in the shadow of the Galata tower, “are you buying me flowers from a baroness?”
“Ah,” says Flynn. She does not think she is imagining that he colors slightly. “Well, we are… we are to arrive at the Tokatliyan as the Count and Countess Andrenyi. And I had thought that this Count Andrenyi would be…” He moistens his lips.
“Uxorious?” supplies Lucy. He shakes his head slightly, for once uncomprehending. “Excessively or submissively fond of one’s wife.”
This time he does blush. “Yes. And, ah, near the hotel is the Çiçek Pasajı, the passage of flowers. All the splendor of the Ottomans… and now it is filled with Russian noblewomen, the refugees of the revolution, selling flowers.”
“I love that you know this.”
Flynn ducks his head slightly. “So,” he continues, “la belle Hélène shall have her flowers, from…”
“Well,” says Lucy, “in the book it’s Rudolf, but I’m not sure I could call you Rudolf with a straight face. What about Victor?”
“If you like.”
“I do like. I think we’d better keep the rest,” says Lucy. “We haven’t been married long, and I’m an American… It will help you explain me. It will help to explain us.”
“Yes,” says Flynn; for once, she cannot read his expression.
So Lucy enters the fabled Hotel Tokatliyan with her arms full of yellow tulips and her heart pounding. She is only too glad to let Flynn announce to the hotel clerk his good fortune at their arrival. For her, there is much to take in: it is one thing to know that a hotel is a jewel of fin-de-siècle architecture and the favored haunt of a country’s modern founder, magnet of politics and scandal. It is quite another to be standing in its foyer while masquerading as a Hungarian countess. Hungarian! Lucy finds a snatch of music running rather madly through her head: Her blood, he said, is bluer than the Danube is or ever was…
Lucy starts. “Oui.” She finds herself unexpectedly breathless. And that is all there is, all there can be, until they are once again in private. As the gilded gates of the lift cage close behind them, Lucy tries to swallow her rising panic.
“We should,” says Flynn in French, “send a telegram to Gabriel.” Lucy blinks at him. “To let him know we have arrived safely,” he says gently.
“Oh! Yes. Yes, that — that’s a good idea. And I’m sure the insurance will take care of the luggage. It’ll be fine.” She suspects that her attempt to reassure herself is audible. “Thank you again for the flowers,” she adds. “They’re too beautiful.” For answer, Flynn raises her knuckles to his lips. With a slight shudder, the lift comes to a halt, and they are released.
Once in their suite, Lucy collapses onto the bed. “I’m sorry.”
Flynn pauses in undoing his tie. “For what?”
“I’m not used to this.” Her voice sounds closer to desperate than she would like. “I’m used to posing as a traveler or a spy or — or a secretary or an activist. I’m not used to making the kind of small talk that would convince anyone that I’m married and not having a fight with my husband! What do married people even talk about?”
Flynn’s lips part slightly; he says nothing. Before Lucy can gather herself to apologize — or to decide that, on the whole, apologizing would make matters worse — he has turned away, arranging his jacket in the wardrobe with fastidious care. “Anything you like,” he says. “Novels, travel, history.” Lucy watches him breathe. When he speaks again, it is in a more normal tone. “Surely you know you can do that.”
“Yes,” says Lucy. She swallows. “Yes, I know I can do that… with you.” He turns to face her again, and she wishes he were less transparent to her.
What he says is: “Cocktails downstairs will give us a chance to meet the others. Would you like the bath first?”
“Oh!” says Lucy. “No, I — I’ll have a bit of a rest first.” He nods, and disappears through the connecting door. Lucy lies back on the bed. She listens to the running water; she tells herself that she can do this; she tells herself that they can do this.
If I'm not mistaken, Rustem Pasha Mosque is next to the Seyt-i Seyim, on the opposite side of the water from the Hotel Tokatliyan, which is still on the European side of the Bosphorus; the Galata Tower is a landmark on the same hill as the Tokatliyan.
For the music of Turkish coffee shops, see: http://www.turkishmusicportal.org/en/composers/detail/refik-fersan; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgdWHzosTkc ; http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000052071#omo-9781561592630-e-0000052071
For the hotel, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokatl%C4%B1yan_Hotels#/media/File:Tokatliyan.jpg
For a late Ottoman map (not reflecting the new building of the republican period) see: http://heritage.bnf.fr/bibliothequesorient/en/maps-istanbul-art
And for the dress Lucy is wearing, see: https://attic-dc.com/item/AGH/reserved-1930s-dress-30s-green-dress-bishop-sleeves-ruched-puffy-accents-by-guermantesvintage/guermantes-vintage
...And that is, verbatim, the (Merriam-Webster) dictionary definition of uxorious.
Rufus tells himself that this can’t be harder than playing “Which donors are racist?” bingo at an MIT scholarship dinner. Still, this is a hell of a crowd to work. And his only excuse to be in the hotel in the first place is as the valet of a man who hasn’t hired him yet. Great. He doesn’t see anyone else in the lobby looking conspicuously valet-like, whom he might be able to ask for help, one batman-person to another. Rufus attempts not to be overawed by the chandeliers. If only he knew the alias of Creepy Rittenhouse Dude #1. Jiya had read the description aloud, but Rufus had told her that Secretly Gross Middle-Aged White Guy didn’t really narrow it down much.
Well. They’ve done this before. He’s even worked for Rittenhouse before. Rufus isn’t sure how having Black guys on the payroll fits with the racist, classist world domination project, but he’s learned not to expect ideological consistency from evil masterminds. He should be able to pull this off, with a little luck. Rufus straightens his shoulders. Just channel Jeeves, Connor had said. 10 minutes of YouTube videos later, Rufus had to admit the guy was pretty smooth.
“Good evening,” says Rufus at the hotel desk. Good start. Better than hi. “Sorry to bother you, but I was supposed to deliver some, uh, hairbrushes to a buddy of mine. He’s valet to a Mr. Ratchett?” God, he hopes this works.
Rufus swallows. “Yeah, I think that’s it. Of Philadelphia?”
“Ah,” says the hotel clerk. “Boston, monsieur.”
“That’s it,” says Rufus, trying not to sag visibly with relief. “That’s it, sorry. His previous guy was in Philly, so…”
“Room 278, monsieur.”
“Great,” says Rufus. “Great, thanks.”
“And the valet,” continues the clerk, “in 713.”
“Sure,” says Rufus, swallowing hard. “Right. Thanks.”
Rufus would not have expected this, but apparently he is the only one of the Time Team who hasn’t read Agatha Christie. The time tables required of a gentleman’s gentleman are almost enough to make him regret not watching Downton Abbey with his mom. Almost. If Lucy’s right, though, he should be catching the guy at a time when he is not supposed to be laying out clothes, helping his gentleman change into said clothes, or pressing a set of clothes. He wonders if this job will doom him to a lifetime of doing the ironing. Now, if Jiya finds that sexy… Focus.
Room 713. Here goes nothing. Rufus knocks, and enters without waiting for a reply. The man bending over the ironing board is pale, with a soft jaw and small, mean eyes. “I didn’t call for…”
Rufus is across the small room in two strides. “Sorry, dude,” he says; and he knocks him out with the iron.
Connor surveys the hotel bar with deep satisfaction. This is the kind of room he knows how to work. And there will be whisky.
“Dewar’s,” he says to the bartender. “Neat, no ice.”
“Very good, sir.” Connor wonders if he can pick out anyone else trying to assess the room. Even that, though, might not be a tell for a Rittenhouse agent alone. This is the era when the only thing more extraordinary than the narratives of spy novels are the narratives of spies themselves, more outré than Ambler’s and more sinister than Greene’s.
Two seats down at the bar is a chestnut-haired man in an American-cut suit: perhaps as good a target as any for establishing his bonafides. “Good evening.”
The man brightens almost instantly; it would seem that Connor’s confidence in the national garrulousness has not been misplaced. “Evening,” says the man cheerfully, and stretches out a hand. “Arnold Chambers.”
“Hannay,” says Connor. “Richard Hannay. League of Nations.”
“Oh!” The man’s eyes widen a little. “You don’t say. Well, I’m only a lowly amanuensis, but I wouldn’t like to trade gigs with you, that’s for sure.”
Connor allows himself a mirthless chuckle. “Well. I’m not sure the world would survive another war. So…”
“Dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it?”
“Something along those lines.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Their whisky tumblers clink.
Connor permits a few moments of discreet silence to pass; it is easily absorbed into the plush carpets, the murmur of prosperous people at their ease. “And,” he says, “you too are brought here by your affairs?” There is the risk, of course, of seeming too inquisitive. But most men are flattered by curiosity, egoistic enough to accept the interest of strangers as natural; and there is always the excuse of ambassadorial habit to fall back on.
“That’s the one,” says the friendly American, with a sigh and apparently without suspicion. “Secretary to one of those big businessmen who’s always in the newsreels as saving or damning civilization.” He grimaces in self-mockery. “I don’t know that it’s as sensational as all that. But then I don’t pretend to understand all the memos.” Mr. Chambers glances around as if he expects a journalist to materialize at his left elbow. Connor reflects that he must not be used to places like this, where confidentiality is one of the wordlessly-included services, an accepted tribute to privilege.
“I don’t particularly like the guy, if I’m honest,” continues Mr. Chambers. “But then, it’s a living.”
Connor smiles a little. “Which of us,” he asks rhetorically, “has not made such compromises?”
Panting a little, Rufus manages to shove his alter ego fully under the bed, reflecting that Harrison Ford made this kind of thing look easy with Storm Troopers. He straightens his borrowed clothing, and does up the final buttons. Here goes nothing. If this has worked — if this is going to work — the man in Room 278 is going to have to take for granted that Rittenhouse has subbed him in. Assuming that the evil organization uses their agents like pawns and doesn’t let them communicate with each other seems like a safe bet, but you never know. Rufus swallows, attempts to loosen his high, starched collar. He gathers up the ironing, and the hotel key, and goes downstairs.
As he heads down the stairs, it occurs to Rufus that he may already have learned something, Agatha Christie style. The hotel has to have a laundry; if cheap chain hotels have dry cleaning in 2018, surely this place, in the era of custom shoe-shining, has to have a “get your stuff ironed” option. Rittenhouse hadn’t taken it. He hadn’t seen any surveillance devices — and he should know — but he wonders if there was something else. Maybe just standard Evil Paranoia. But maybe even that is useful knowledge. He files it away, and he hopes that he doesn’t get anything embarrassingly wrong. Oh well. Since he’s nominally a twenty-first-century Rittenhouse agent, he can always pass himself off as having imperfect Jeeves-training if it comes to a valet emergency. He huffs out a breath, and knocks at the door of 278.
“Mr. Ratchett, sir?” He clears his throat. “Your suit.”
Chapter 5: Night in Istanbul
I'm pulling an Agatha Christie and going omniscient for an introduction to more of our cast of characters. This is, of course, outrageously ambitious, and will inevitably suffer by comparison with how the Queen of Crime does it; but it is meant as an homage.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“I still think,” says Fräulein Schmidt, “that we should be at the Tokatliyan.”
Princess Natalia Shcherbatov applies lavender water behind her ears. “Yes, Ilse. This I know.”
“It is more… appropriate.”
“The Countess is one of my oldest friends, Ilse.” The Princess smiles. “And she will tell the story for years, of this visit.”
Fräulein Schmidt sighs deeply. “It is foolishness. All this way from Shanghai, for two old women. And for what?”
“You know very well,” says the Princess. “Soon now it is over. I sometimes wonder,” continues the Princess affectionately, “if I have escaped the revolution. All these questions.”
“Yes, Excellency,” says Fräulein Schmidt.
Nino Morrone is satisfied. Thanks to an Italian policeman, he has consumed a good dinner, and is now established in a pension. His business concluded, he can return to New York: to Vincenzo at the bakery, cheerfully handing over loaves rich with olives; to the professor’s coffee, to Enzo’s pastries, to games in the park, to Giovanni who sings at the window for sheer joy, and to Lilliana sweeping her parents’ stoop. Yes, it will be good to go home. One last time before climbing into bed he verifies the contents of his suitcase and his pockets, and makes sure of the revolver under his pillow.
Kirsten Andersson, in her blameless boarding house, is writing a letter. Dear Greta: God forgive me, but it is a relief to be away. It will be so good to see you, and I am so eager to meet Martin. I hope the girls are getting used to having a little brother. I have made it safely as far as Istanbul. How great God’s world is! and how small the minds of those he has created. I look at the policemen in the street here, and I think of the Roman soldiers of whom our Lord spoke, who demanded that a subjected people carry their burdens, who humiliated them simply because they could. But forgive me, dear sister, for writing to you of such gloomy matters…
Meanwhile, at the Tokatliyan, nearly all the guests are abed, and it will be several hours before the shoeshine boys arrive to begin their work by starlight. Rufus is lurking. He’s getting to be quite good at lurking, he thinks. On their walk to the hotel, he and Connor had worked out the plan.
“Connor, would you help me hide a body?”
The question had been succeeded by an unmistakably incredulous pause. “Rufus,” said Connor at last, “under the present circumstances, I must presume that this is not a hypothetical question.”
“It is not.”
Connor sighed deeply. “Notwithstanding my affection and regard for you… what makes you think that I could hide a body?”
“Fair point.” Rufus had ruminated on this for some minutes. “Okay. New plan. Would you be the diversion so I can get the intel I need in order to hide a body?”
Connor had sighed more deeply still.
So Rufus lurks, behind the combined screen of a pillar and a palm, his eye on the gleaming candlestick telephone at the end of the hotel desk. The attendant has his feet propped up, and his magazine lies unread on his chest. Rufus is somewhat guiltily relieved: if the man is drowsily inattentive, so much the better.
The telephone rings. The attendant curses; the feet of his chair hit the tiled floor, and his magazine falls. The faint chime of the receiver being lifted is succeeded by the echo of a familiar voice, uplifted in strident complaint. Rufus exhales. He reflects that Connor is probably enjoying himself. He only hopes he doesn’t overdo it and get dismissed as an eccentric, rather than impressing the attendant as someone requiring to be instantly placated. When the man at the desk sighs, and groans, and retreats into his sanctum, Rufus moves. Once crouched behind the desk — with any luck, he might even pass unnoticed if the man comes back out — Rufus congratulates himself on his turn of speed. MIT Ultimate Frisbee, unexpectedly useful. He pulls the hotel register towards him and starts paging rapidly through its most recent entries. Andrenyi. Rufus supposes he shouldn’t be surprised by the flamboyant, decisive script. He’s definitely grateful for it. He hastily closes the register (on his thumb), shoves it back into place, and scrambles over the desk as the latch of the attendant’s door clicks open.
“Yes, sir,” says the man wearily, “it is all accounted for, I assure you. No, there is no such message. I assure you, sir, it is all reported… Very well, I shall ask the boys in the morning, but… Yes, sir, of course it is a serious matter…”
Rufus grins to himself in the darkness.
“Okay,” says Lucy, “I have to know: did Denise custom-order those things?”
“I have no idea.”
Lucy pauses in brushing out her hair. “I’m just… picturing her looking up vintage men’s pajamas on Etsy.”
“Attention to detail,” says Flynn. “At least nine-tenths of successful intelligence work.”
“What’s the other tenth?”
“Oh,” says Lucy, rising from the dressing table, “so it’s like academic research, then.”
“You’re the expert.” There is a knock at the door, and his smile vanishes. Wordlessly he gestures, and Lucy obeys, climbing hastily into the bed. Flynn covers her hand with his as she is about to pull the covers up. “No.” He speaks just above a whisper, close enough that she is aware of his breath on her skin. “If there is shooting, roll away from the door. Get under the bed.” Lucy nods.
The knock on the door comes again; Flynn pulls out his gun from the suitcase, and crosses the room. And then, with one quick movement, he half-opens the door, his body still braced against it. Lucy waits for a bullet to shatter the bedside lamp.
His shoulders collapse, and he puts the safety back on the gun. Lucy is not sure whether the breath that hisses between his teeth is a curse or a prayer. He does not speak as he pulls the door the rest of the way open, motions Rufus inside.
“Is everything okay?” asks Lucy, when Flynn has shut the door again.
“Yeah,” says Rufus. “Yeah, so far so good. I’m not half-bad at Jeeves-ing, at least for the expectations of another twenty-first century dude. And, like, apparently this Rittenhouse guy just expects that I will do the henchman thing and listen to him monologue. Where do they find these people? Anyway, I’ve got that down.”
“Great,” says Flynn.
“Uh,” says Rufus, and glances between them. “Yeah, but… are you okay?”
“We weren’t expecting you,” says Lucy gently. She gives Flynn a look, and he stands down, returning the gun to the suitcase. “We’re fine.”
“Right,” says Rufus, clearly unconvinced. “So… Flynn, can you help me hide a body?”
Flynn’s eyebrows shoot up. “Your definition of okay, Rufus… Yes. Of course. Where is it?”
“Floor 7, and, uh, he’s just knocked out.”
“Can we treat him as a drunk we’re putting on the street, or do you need me to kill him?”
“I… I think we can just vanish him. He’s the valet,” explains Rufus. “I appreciate the offer, though. Nice to know we’ve reached that stage in our friendship.”
“I’ll get dressed. Two minutes.” Flynn vanishes into the bathroom.
“Well done getting the room number,” says Lucy. “Anything we should know?”
“Not yet.” Rufus shrugs. “No helpful facts amid the monologuing, really. Their master plan is to frame Hauptmann, but we knew that.”
“Suspected,” says Lucy, suddenly cold. “It’s good to have confirmation.”
“That’s all I’ve got,” says Rufus. “Nothing helpful like ‘Hey, here’s how we’re planning to bump off a super-smart English lady so she can’t get arsenic off the 1930s streets…’ Is he okay, by the way?”
“Oh,” says Lucy. She looks at the door behind which Flynn is changing, and wonders how much is hers to tell. “I… I’m not sure he knew you thought of him as a friend.” It is the truth, at least, even if it is not the central one.
“Oh,” says Rufus in turn. A moment longer they are both silent. “We really do lead weird lives.”
Yes, MIT does have an Ultimate Frisbee team. They seem to be quite good: http://mens-ult.mit.edu/.
MOTOE readers will notice that I am riffing on the characters in the novel; as should also be clear, I am drawing on the historical context of the 1930s as well as the novel for their backstory.
Lucy feels, guiltily, as though she should not be fighting sleep while two of the people she’s closest to in the world are trying to dispose of a body. But she is fatigued after a long day in leather shoes on ancient streets, speaking one foreign language while surrounded by another. And then there’s the matter of the 1930s. Sleep is a very attractive alternative to puzzling over the probable nature of a crime everyone is relying on her to prevent.
Lucy yawns, and turns to her other side. Tentatively she reaches until she can feel the metal of Flynn’s gun under the opposite pillow. He had placed it there before leaving, without meeting her eyes. She curls her fingers lightly around the grip, feeling its cool weight. Strange bedfellows… Lucy once more turns her back on the other side of the bed, and presses her hands between her knees. She is very aware of the gun behind her, as though it were a living and not very friendly presence. She is almost sick with weariness, but her brain keeps worrying at the question of what to do next. She could befriend Agatha Christie; she could honeytrap an agent; she could interrogate each passenger to find out what information they have, what histories they carry. Half-deliriously Lucy thinks that it is a bit like giving a lecture for students who haven’t done the reading: no amount of preparation can save her. And on this thought, she falls asleep.
It is some time later that the latch clicks, the door opens. Lucy only half-rouses, her eyes and limbs heavy. “Hm?”
“I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Mm,” returns Lucy. She gradually attains semi-consciousness, and rouses herself a little further when Flynn sits down on the edge of the bed. “Everything okay?”
“Yes.” He arranges himself under the covers with something like delicacy. “It’s all right. Rufus and I weren’t seen. We have abandoned him with a bottle of vodka and a bump on the head. It’s all right,” says Flynn again.
“ ’S good.”
“Good night, Lucy.”
By 7:30 in the morning, Rufus is up and washed and ready for the day of Jeeves-ing and espionage. He is also pretty impressed with himself. Be proud of yourself, Connor had told him, the time he had come out to MIT. Take pride in your work — celebrate it, even. It’s worth doing, and in this world, Rufus, you’ll find that most of the time, no one else is willing to do it for you.
So Rufus, carrying a pressed jacket, allows himself self-satisfaction. He taps twice on the door. “Mr. Ratchett, sir?”
At least the man doesn’t expect to be dressed by someone else. But Rufus still finds him unappealing — unsettling, even — in a way he had not anticipated. His skin has a pale, unhealthy tinge, and his eyes never stop calculating. He is very obviously a man who expects to be treated as powerful by others.
“I’ll take that in a minute,” he says, around a mouthful of seeded bread. He tears it with his teeth, and Rufus cannot help but be disconcerted. “So,” Ratchett says, “Mr. Grimes. Tell me what brought you to Rittenhouse.”
Rufus does not have to feign a slightly incredulous laugh. “Well!” he says, “that’s… that’s kind of a long story. But my job brought me to it. I didn’t grow up with much.” He wonders what kind and what degree of suitable humility Ratchett will be expecting. “But I was smart,” Rufus continues, “a bit of a science geek.” Best not to be too specific. “And Rittenhouse… Rittenhouse was willing to think outside the box. They were willing to see unusual possibilities.” (This is, he supposes, one way of putting it.) “I knew that doing things the normal way wasn’t going to cut it for me.” That, at least, is absolutely true.
Ratchett nods, his powerful jaws still moving. Rufus notes that he doesn’t ask if he has had breakfast. “Well,” he says, “we’re gonna do good work together. At this point, it’s just enforcement.” He grins, and Rufus suddenly reconsiders his opinion that The Godfather, classic or no, was somewhat exaggerated melodrama. He stands up, and shrugs, and shakes himself, and Rufus is conscious of a chill. Underneath the flab, it is still a powerful frame. “A little intimidation in the right places.”
“The Lindberghs,” says Rufus. He hopes it comes out sounding matter-of-fact: I am just demonstrating that I know what I am expected to know; I will not make you waste your valuable time.
“That’s right,” says Ratchett approvingly, and Rufus wonders whether he should tell Connor that he was right, sitting in on committee meetings was a valuable experience; or whether Connor should never, ever get the satisfaction of knowing that. “Show them that it pays to keep in with us. And then there’s the Christie bitch.”
Rufus holds the jacket out for the man who is now his employer, and his hands are steady. “I’ll admit,” he says — and he is proud of the fact that his voice, too, does not tremble — “that one surprised me.”
Ratchett pulls his cuffs straight, and grins again. “Thinking outside the box.”
Rufus laughs. “Yeah.”
When Lucy wakes, she is alone. Telling herself not to worry is ineffective; she feels as though her heart is being uncomfortably squeezed. Taking a deep breath, she orders breakfast in French. Hélène, she tells herself, Hélène is not worried. Hélène knows that her fear is not real. Hélène knows that her husband is perfectly safe, bound on some errand of his own, and that when he returns, his arms will be full of flowers.
As it happens, they are. “Victor,” says Lucy, receiving the armful of white roses, “you — you shouldn’t have.” She could swear that there is something like mischief dancing in Flynn’s eyes.
“Should I not?” he queries mildly, and stretches out a long-fingered hand for one of the simit abandoned on her tray.
“Hey,” says Lucy, but without heat, and he smiles at her. “You could tell me what you’ve been doing,” she suggests, “once you’ve finished consuming the remains of my breakfast. I’m sure the Count and Countess Andrenyi could afford two.” He holds up his hands in mock surrender. “I’ll take a bath while you manage that.” It strikes her with a curious pang that he should avert his eyes as she gets out of bed, as though seeing her in a decorously capacious nightgown is a privilege he has not earned.
“Flynn,” says Lucy, and he looks up. “Thank you for the flowers.”
When she emerges from the bath, she finds him established at the delicate wooden table, confronting a hearty Turkish breakfast with every appearance of satisfaction. Lucy seats herself opposite him. “So,” she says, popping an olive into her mouth, “tell me.”
“We have berths on the Orient Express.”
“Oh! No Mr. Harris to be displaced, no officials to be bribed… or shouldn’t I ask?”
“No trouble,” says Flynn. “It’s winter; the carriages aren’t full. We are in the Calais coach. And I have the names of our fellow-passengers.” In answer to her look, he continues: “Obtained by no more nefarious means than reading a ledger upside-down while the clerk was otherwise occupied.
“We are traveling,” says Flynn, “with the Princess Shcherbatov, who is traveling from Shanghai and who gives an address in Paris; with her maid, Fräulein Ilse Schmidt; with a Fröken Kirsten Andersson, whose address is in Gondar — a Swedish missionary, I presume; with a Signor Nino Morrone, address New York; with Mr. Ratchett and his attendants; and with a Mrs. A. Mallowan, address in Devon.”
“Flynn,” breathes Lucy, “you realize who that is, don’t you?” His face remains a blank. “We’re traveling with Agatha Christie. On the Orient Express.”
This chapter was going to be about the train, but then more scene-setting happened.
Connor Mason, boarding the Orient Express, reflects that he could get used to this. It is a small space, but a bright one, splendid in its mahogany paneling, its bright brass fittings, its etched glass.
“Monsieur Hannay,” says the porter responsible for his luggage. A note changes hands, and Connor watches the disposal of his belongings with some complacency. The narrow compartment is immaculately maintained. It is easy, once he is alone, to inspect it for near-invisible bugs. Nothing in the berth, under the nightstand, on the wash cabinet; Connor takes a deep breath. Secure is the connecting door to the next compartment. Secure are the latches on window and door. And what, he asks himself somewhat acerbically, does that prove, exactly? Predictable challenges are one thing. Anticipating the unexpected — that is quite another. Fortunately, it’s something he’s good at. Connor straightens his cuffs, and goes to meet his fellow-passengers.
The upholstery in the lounge car is dove-gray and scarlet, and the whisky is excellent. Connor appraises the other passengers, assembled to observe the scenery, although that scenery is as yet composed of the delicate arches and inlaid plaster of the Sirkeci station. The Italian (or Greek?) is taking industrious notes on a pad of cheap paper. His suit strikes Connor as being excessively bold, but he seems comfortable in it and his own skin. Two women sit with identical posture and contrasting attitudes. A lady and a lady’s companion, he concludes. The latter wears a high-necked shirtwaist, a cameo brooch; if she is a maid, she is clearly both trusted and honored in her position.
They could hardly pose a more conspicuous counterpoint to the scrubbed, slumped, strong-boned woman sitting on the other side of the car, fidgeting uneasily with a ribbon between the lightweight pages of a bible. Too genuinely anxious to be a Rittenhouse agent, that one. Into the car come Flynn and Lucy — Connor corrects himself mentally — the Count and Countess Andrenyi. The two elegant women take in the newcomers’ appearance, not bothering to disguise their glances. Connor supposes that this may work in their favor, in a way; surely no one would suspect a couple so striking, so inevitably conspicuous, of being spies?
“Two French 75s,” says Flynn, and Connor looks up as though alerted to a new presence.
“Count Andrenyi? Forgive me — it is Count Andrenyi, isn’t it?”
Flynn’s expression is carefully half-blank, a little withdrawn. “It is, Monsieur…”
“Hannay,” says Connor, pitching his voice to carry. “League of Nations.”
“Ah, of course.” They clasp hands. “Bucharest, wasn’t it?”
“Of course, forgive me. You haven’t met my wife: Hélène.”
A lowering of the lashes, a small hand placed briefly in his. “You’re too kind.” She really does do it, Connor thinks, remarkably well. Together they make false and fluent chat, and beneath them, the train starts to move.
Agatha Christie enters the dining car at half past six. She does not do so like a woman making an entrance. She does so in a shantung coat and skirt, and with a somewhat defensive manner. Her chin is squared, her eyes bright.
Lucy’s hand closes over Flynn’s wrist, and grips it tightly. “Victor!” As she releases him, he moves his hand to cover hers. Lucy registers a faint surprise at this, but most of her attention is focused on Agatha Christie Mallowan. She is a woman whose whole appearance seems matter-of-fact: she has strong eyebrows and a stout figure and a no-nonsense manner. And she has revolutionized a genre, already created a famous oeuvre and a scarcely less famous persona. She has proved herself a fearless observer and chronicler of humanity. In that way, thinks Lucy, she is rather like a historian. And scarcely anyone, Lucy reflects unhappily, could be more dangerous to Rittenhouse’s designs.
She allows herself to hope, briefly, that she might sit at their table. But such convenient coincidences are confined to the pages of Agatha Christie’s own books. Of course, as Poirot often complacently observed, and as her own daily experience confirms, life is often stranger than fiction…
“Ma chère,” says Flynn, next to her ear, “breathe.”
She obeys. The second breath is less shaky than the first. She becomes aware that Flynn’s thumb is tracing circles against her wrist, a soothing, steady rhythm. Somehow this feels like another problem to solve, or several. Does he realize he’s doing it? Whether or not he does, does it mean anything — beyond the fact that he’s disconcertingly observant? If nothing else, Lucy concludes unhappily, it proves that somewhere, somewhen, she became used to his touch as comfort.
“Ma belle Hélène,” murmurs Flynn, and she is reminded that of course, of course, this is only a charade, “listen. Here is what we must do.”
To Lucy’s twenty-first-century sensibilities, the electric lights of the 1930s always seem too dim, always on the verge of flickering out. Academically, however, she recognizes that the lounge of the Orient Express represents the best of what modern luxury has to offer. Its passengers all seem to be relaxing under its influence, in the hands of its competent staff. The princess and her companion play cards in perfect silence, the murmur of waxed paper against the table the only sound. The Swedish missionary — it must be she — is unselfconsciously hemming a handkerchief. Agatha Christie, unsurprisingly, is reading. At the bar, Connor sits alone. Standing in the doorway, she squeezes Flynn’s arm.
“If you will excuse me,” he says, pitching his voice just loud enough to be overheard, “there is a matter I would discuss with Monsieur Hannay. We needn’t bore you, my dear.”
Lucy finds she does not have to feign her smile. “You’re forgiven.” For the second time since their arrival in Istanbul, something enters his expression that she cannot quite place. But before she can decide to worry about it, he makes her a formal little bow, raises her hand to his lips, and leaves her.
Lucy takes a deep breath. Countess Hélène Andrenyi, she tells herself, would not simply stand here. She would assume that she was entitled to any seat she chose to take. Lucy slips into the one opposite Agatha Christie.
“I’m sorry to disturb you.”
The other woman’s brows have risen, in incredulity she does not bother to disguise. “Pray, do not concern yourself on my account.” The irony is cutting; no less pointedly, she returns to her book.
“You don’t actually like that silk,” says Lucy. She might not have spoken at all, for all the reaction she elicits. “You call it the ‘Empire Builder’s Wife’ outfit. You prefer cotton, that you can do proper work in.” Lucy reminds herself to breathe, and takes a more substantial risk. “Max says that it makes you look like the most offensive kind of memsahib.”
Very slowly, Agatha Christie lowers her book. She squares it neatly on the table. And then, she looks up, and meets Lucy’s eyes. “I have never before,” she says at last, “believed in mediumistic powers.”
“You don’t have to now,” says Lucy. “But the reality is far stranger.”
The other woman scoffs. “Indeed? You might find that our opinions on that differ.”
Lucy reflects rather desperately that she has already made a terrible first impression. “I’m a time traveler,” she says. “I’m from the future — from the first decades of the twenty-first century — and time travel is possible.”
“Ah,” says Agatha Christie. Oh God, she thinks I’m mad, she thinks I’m hysterical, she’ll… “That,” she says, “is a much more reasonable explanation.”
“Science,” continues the crime writer calmly, “always looks like magic to the uninitiated. Take radio waves. Take the telephone — you don’t have to go to the bush to find men who look at it as the devil’s work; you need go no farther than a reasonably remote English village.” She raises her coffee cup to her lips, and her hand is steady. “So,” says Agatha Christie, “tell me why you’re here.”
Lucy swallows. “We’re here to protect you.” She speaks in a rush, under her breath. “I and my — the man at the bar. Both men at the bar. And the man who is valet to Mr. Ratchett.”
“The other Black man?”
Agatha Christie nods. “Very well. And from what do you believe I need protecting?”
“I… this is going to sound strange.” Agatha Christie’s mouth quirks. “I know,” says Lucy, “it’s all strange, but we think there’s a group of men who want to kill you.” The other woman raises her brows. “I know,” says Lucy again. “But it’s because of your work, because… because of the work you do exposing danger. I suspect that they’re not happy about how your books advocate for the innocent and powerless, either.”
Agatha Christie nods. “There are men like that.”
“Yes. So,” says Lucy, “if you could barricade your door tonight? And perhaps the next night? I suppose my excuse for engaging you in conversation is that I get nervous and I… I just wanted someone to talk to.”
“That’s quite all right, my dear. You must tell me more about your travels some time.”
“I… yes,” says Lucy. “Yes, that would be lovely. I’ll… see about rejoining my husband. Good night.”
Agatha Christie smiles. “Good night, my dear.” It feels unexpectedly like a benediction.
Agatha Christie is a little more than 10 years older than Lucy, at this point. Her attitudes towards science, magic, and spiritualism are inferred from her books, particularly here The Pale Horse. Lucy knows about the shantung silk from Christie's (later-published) memoir, Come, Tell Me How You Live. Details of the train decor have been gleaned from various documentaries.
This is a French 75: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/french-75-242668
“This is like the world’s weirdest slumber party,” says Rufus. They are crowded into the compartment of the Count and Countess, with Flynn against the far wall, Connor opposite him, and Rufus concealed from the corridor behind Lucy on the lower bunk.
“My dear Rufus,” drawls Connor, “I could tell you stories which…”
Flynn clears his throat.
“Thank you,” says Lucy, rather pointedly. “Rufus: report so far?”
“Ratchett is definitely our man. He’s also super-gross. Film at 11. And he does want Christie as the target. What he wants with the Lindberghs is to scare them, because apparently Lindbergh is still a sympathizer and Rittenhouse needs to keep him. I don’t know what’s going on there.”
“I think I might,” says Lucy; she is very pale.
“Our plan?” asks Connor.
“I think,” says Lucy, “that it should be tonight. It’s on the second night in the book — the murder, that is. But there’s no… there’s no real reason for it, if you see what I mean. Poirot needs to move into a new bunk, that’s all. There’s no reason that we need to be past Sofia before it happens.”
“He has a gun under his pillow,” Rufus blurts out.
“Very well?” Rufus turns on Flynn. “I tell you that Rittenhouse Dude keeps a gun under his pillow and you say ‘very well?’ Look, maybe you’re not scared of 1930s gangsters, but I was shot by one, if you’d care to remember, and I have no desire to — ”
“I’ll be prepared,” says Flynn. “It’s good to know. Thank you.”
“So I…” Rufus clears his throat. “I leave his door unlocked?”
“No,” says Flynn; it is the first time that he speaks sharply. “He’ll check. I can get through the door.”
“You find the body in the morning,” says Flynn.
“Oh,” says Rufus again.
“We haven’t found anyone else interested in Rittenhouse,” says Lucy, “or the Lindberghs, or Agatha Christie. No one seems to know who she is, and that’s all to the good. I introduced myself to her, so she’s on her guard.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about introducing ourselves to history like this,” says Rufus.
“The world has survived your appearance in a Bond movie,” says Connor dryly; “I think it can survive a new Agatha Christie novel. If it’s discovered as an unpublished manuscript, now — imagine the sensation!”
“Don’t joke about it!” says Lucy. “Rufus, you’d better go.” She lays a hand on his arm. “You’ve been great, by the way.”
“Back at you,” says Rufus; and, Flynn having made sure of the corridor, he goes.
“A few more minutes for the two of you to talk politics over drinks,” says Lucy softly. “We’ll let the train settle, let Rufus get Ratchett settled. And then the Countess can insist on Mr. Hannay’s departure because of her delicate health. That’s the alibi,” she adds, raising her eyes to Flynn. “The Countess suffered insomnia, and the Count was with her all night.” Wordlessly he nods.
Connor removes a flask from his breast pocket. “Whisky? It will add an air of artistic verisimilitude,” he adds, unscrewing the cap, “to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.”
By the time Flynn sees Connor into the corridor, the train has subsided into its nighttime rhythms. The falling snow against the windows and the wheels against the tracks perform a soporific counterpoint. When he turns from locking the compartment door, Lucy is pulling her nightgown over her head.
She emerges in a cloud of dark hair. “Flynn?” She pushes aside the straps of her evening dress, and flame-colored silk pools at her feet. “What if…” He waits. He will not risk adding to the ways she can imagine disaster. “What if something goes wrong?”
“Ah.” Her eyes seem very large in her face, and she is waiting for his reassurance. Flynn turns aside from her. He sits on the edge of the lower berth, and unlaces his shoes. “I think,” he says slowly, “that as long as I am not apprehended as an assassin, Agatha Christie will not be in danger. You’re shivering,” he adds, without looking up. “Go on to bed, if you like; I’ll get the lights.”
Lucy sighs — almost in exasperation, he thinks — but she climbs the ladder to her berth all the same. After several moments, she speaks: “You didn’t answer my question.”
“I didn’t ask if Agatha Christie would be safe; I asked what would happen if something went wrong.”
Knowing she cannot see him, Flynn scrubs a hand over his face. “If there is a commotion, and the killing is discovered, we make up a story: I killed him because he was a traitor and a spy. Which is not incorrect,” he adds grimly. “We can use the political chaos,” he continues. “If he kills me, he might claim attempted assassination, of course… but that would require him to explain why anyone would want to kill him. And Connor can deliver the counter-story: as I confided in him, I was on the trail of… oh, the Black Hand, perhaps; I sought to warn Ratchett of possible danger. What followed was a mistake in the dark.”
She is silent for long enough that he wonders if she has fallen asleep. “You think of everything,” says Lucy at last.
“I try,” says Flynn lightly, and rises, and turns out the light. “Good night, Lucy.”
The silence expands around them, thick as the darkness, and still the wheels run swiftly onwards, and still the snow falls. Flynn lies awake, and thinks of the woman lying above him. We’re both alone, he had told her once; never, perhaps, has it seemed more true than now. What he finds himself thinking of — involuntarily, irresistibly — is her warmth. In the cold, his bones and scars ache, and he cannot help thinking of the sweet warmth of her: a small, confiding body, an easy weight in his arms. Flynn closes his eyes, and forces himself to take a breath that fills his lungs. She had appeared to him first as an angelic messenger: fear not, I bring you tidings of great joy. She had appeared as half-divine herself. Reading her words, he had come to love her spirit, her courage. Wandering in the dark, he had come to love her incandescent hope. What he loves now — what he cannot help loving — is, quite simply, the miraculous humanity of her. Again Flynn takes a deep breath. Silently he rises, and girds his robe about him, and goes out into the corridor, into the outer darkness, to do what he must.
The key is never to think too much, not to plan too much defensive action. He would not have to explain himself if a fellow-passenger emerged from one of the compartments; only if they were to ask what he is doing would he offer them the first use of the washroom. By the time they were through, he would be in Ratchett’s compartment. But no one comes.
He cannot linger with his hand on Ratchett’s door. He cannot linger on the threshold once he has opened. Flynn breathes. He thinks his way past the obstacle: a swift twist out of the path of a cocked pistol, and then a spring, the snapping of the man’s neck in his hands. If Ratchett shoots first, then to hell with subtlety — a quick, confusing rush, and wrenched control, and the man’s pale eyes wide with terror, his breath a sick, small rattle on the edge of nothingness. Flynn tries not to think about the sound of a silenced pistol in the dark.
He opens the door, and moves: his back flat against the wash cabinet, and then his palms against the floor. He launches himself from his crouching position, and is across the room, and no gunshot has sounded. He has his thumb pressed against Ratchett’s windpipe, his other hand over the pillow, over the gun. The flesh is unresisting under his hands. Flynn inhales sharply. He should, he tells himself, have noticed it earlier: the acrid, familiar, unexpected smell of blood.
Flynn releases the dead man’s throat. He waits. He can hear the thrum of his own heartbeat, and no other sound under the whisper of the snow. Not even Ratchett’s watch ticks. Flynn does not move for the pack of vestas in his pocket, or the lighter on Ratchett’s nightstand. No wavering flame must appear here, to attract the attention of a passing official, a sleepy passenger. Flynn rises from the bed, gingerly crosses to the connecting door. Locked — and with the key in this side of the door. Flynn raises a hand to the blind. This will be enough light for his purposes: reflected moonlight off the snow, nothing to raise the suspicions of the train. And only in an Agatha Christie novel would he startle some innocent onlooker: a dark man, bending over another like the Angel of Death.
Flynn is startled into motionlessness by the sight of the man’s chest. He has seen savagery in many guises, but this… A human hand has done this, has torn up flesh as badly as metal. Flynn bends over the corpse. No rigor mortis, as yet, and no signs of a struggle: merely the sprawled and powerful body, that submitted apparently unresisting to this violence and this indignity. If there were any possibility of Lindbergh being on the train, then, then this would have its explanation. Flynn cannot help thinking that it is a condign punishment. Himself he would have liked to see the man’s fear. But still — he casts his eyes around for a knife, and finds none — why this? Flynn shakes himself, and lowers the blind. There is no reason for him to be here, and it is only folly to linger.
He sees no one in the corridor; there is no one to question the Count Andrenyi’s nocturnal wanderings. Carefully he opens the door of their compartment and slips around it. He closes it quietly behind him, feels the click of the latch under his hands. He tells himself he should resist the temptation to make sure she is still breathing (of course she will still be breathing, she…)
“Flynn,” says Lucy. He lets out a breath, and after a moment, he turns. She is half-sitting up, propped on her elbows, dark eyes wide. He crosses the space to her, and she shifts closer to the foot of the bed.
“Did you…” begins Lucy, and stops. She shivers convulsively. “Is he…”
Before answering, Flynn takes off his robe and reaches to arrange it around her shoulders. She leans instinctively into his borrowed warmth, shoulders hunched against the cold. Flynn takes a deep breath, and drops his hands from the lapels. “I didn’t have to,” he says. “He was already dead.”
Her face is still blank with shock; before her expression can turn to pity or relief he has turned away, paced to the window in two constrained strides.
“Flynn,” says Lucy. He can hear the creak of the berth; he should tell her to stay where she is, and the words stick in his throat. He can hear her bare feet against the rungs of the ladder. She does not pause to put on her slippers; with his robe trailing, she comes to stand behind him, a small, warm presence. She might be the only living thing in the blank night. After a moment’s hesitation, she rests her fingertips lightly against his shoulder blades. “Garcia.”
“It doesn’t…” Lucy stops, and draws breath. She does not move her hands. “Wanting to kill a man like that — a man who did things like that — it doesn’t make you a monster.”
He laughs, and the laughter is bitter in his throat. “And what if a monster is precisely what you need me to be?” He hears her intake of breath; she says nothing. “Go back to bed, Lucy,” says Garcia Flynn. “You’ll catch cold.”
The Agatha Christie novel alluded to in this chapter is 4.50 from Paddington.
Next chapter: Blood, Snow.
Lucy wakes in the pre-dawn chill, and she knows precisely what she has to do. She slithers a little awkwardly down the ladder, banging her elbow, getting one foot briefly caught between the rungs.
“Flynn,” she whispers urgently. “Flynn.” Lucy is visited by a pang of compunction. He sleeps exhausted; she tells herself that she should not be tempted to kiss the corner of his mouth, to smooth the crease in his forehead with her thumb. She puts a hand on his shoulder. “Flynn.”
“Mm, ’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong.” Lucy takes a deep breath. “I need to see the body.”
“Before Rufus discovers it,” she explains. “I need to see the body.”
He lies back with a groan. “Lucy, you don’t…”
“I don’t what?”
“You don’t want to…” he is silent for what seems too long a moment… “see that,” he concludes, but there is already defeat in his voice.
“Not for the body itself,” says Lucy. “I need to see the room. For evidence. No one’s awake yet. And if anyone does see us, well, I was just suffering a crise de nerfs.”
He scrubs his hands over his face, and gets to his feet. “À votre service,” he says, shrugging into his robe. Lucy wonders, briefly, if she should be frightened by how entirely he means it.
She is as good as her word. She tries not to look at the body. She looks at the floor, and there are no shoe-prints; Flynn, of course, had worn slippers. She looks at the finger-plate on the door, and there are no marks; suspicious, perhaps, but an argument ex silentio. The dead man’s eyes are staring. There are no stains in the washbasin, and Flynn is motionless behind her. There is nothing conspicuously absent from Ratchett’s kit. There are no telltale papers in the drawer. The room is narrow. Ratchett had used a lighter, rather than matches; there are no fragments of burnt paper, as in the novel. There is no cufflink under a chair. There is no too-conveniently dropped handkerchief. The dead man lies accusing, and slowly his blood dries.
“Sorry,” Lucy manages. “I’m going to…” She is distantly conscious of Flynn’s hand at her elbow as she leaves the compartment. In the corridor, she barely avoids blundering into the Princess Shcherbatov. “Sorry,” says Lucy again, between clenched teeth, “I’m…” She’s quite sure that a Princess outranks a Countess at all times, even and especially where the washrooms on trains are concerned. But as her insides seem determined to turn themselves inside-out, she has limited attention to spare for this matter of etiquette.
Afterwards, Lucy splashes cold water on her face, repeats the gesture until she becomes conscious of the noise of the tap, the waste of the water. Her fingers feel clumsy on the tap, on the towel. Breathless, still nauseated, she presses her fingertips to her temples. She’s not sure whether she should mind less or more, seeing a man killed sleeping, and lying in his blood. She retches again. She has no idea what she will say to the Princess Schcherbatov.
When Lucy emerges from the washroom, it is Fräulein Schmidt whom she finds.
“My mistress asks me,” she says evenly, “to see if there is anything you require.”
Lucy takes a deep breath. A countess would not say um. A countess would not shed tears. “No,” she says. Her voice trembles, but it does not break. “No, thank you; you may tell her that she is very kind.”
Fräulein Schmidt smiles: her own smile, not her professional one. It changes her face, Lucy thinks, quite remarkably. “And,” she says, “if I am so bold to ask if there is anything you like from me?” Lucy blinks at her. “Some tea, maybe? Something else, perhaps — I speak to the conductor? I am good cook,” Fräulein Schmidt adds proudly, “and I am with many ladies when they are…” She hesitates, her tongue slightly visible, as though she were tasting for a word. Giving up, she makes an absolutely unambiguous gesture.
“Oh!” says Lucy. “Oh, no!” She crosses her arms over herself. Countess, she reminds herself, countess. “It is very kindly meant, I’m sure, but that’s not…” She swallows. “I am quite well, thank you.”
“Ah,” says Fräulein Schmidt. She looks Lucy up and down, as if to say that she reserves the right to have her doubts. “You will forgive me, then.”
“Of course.” Lucy wishes she were steadier on her feet, following Fräulein Schmidt down the corridor. She is still shaking when she regains their own compartment. Flynn gets to his feet when she enters; it is fortunate, she thinks absently, that the conductor has put up her berth. She subsides onto the lower berth, now serving as a chaise longue, and Flynn resumes his seat next to her.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“You needn’t be.”
“There was nothing out of place,” she continues, running her fingers through her hair. “I thought… I thought if I could see the room that I might be able to see if there was something moved, or removed, some small thing…”
“And you did,” says Flynn softly.
“There weren’t even marks on the carpet.” She can hear the tension in her own voice; she forces herself to take a deep breath. “Not unusual ones, that is. Nothing burned, nothing missing, nothing out of place…”
“You know,” says Flynn, interrupting, “perhaps better than any of us, how meaningful an absence can be.”
Lucy takes another breath. “Yeah.” She knows he’s talking about historical evidence; she knows he’s not thinking of Amy. But she cannot help doing so. “There’s something else I have to apologize for.”
He raises his eyebrows. “Oh?”
“Well, to confess, then. Fräulein Schmidt — and probably the Princess, too — she thinks I’m pregnant. That the Countess Andrenyi is pregnant,” Lucy amends hastily. “I suppose it’s a natural assumption.”
“Ah,” says Flynn. For a long moment, he says nothing else. “Are you…” He clears his throat. “Are we going to maintain such a pretense?”
Lucy is, despite herself, startled into laughter. “No! God, no. No,” she says again firmly.
“Ah,” says Flynn again. He nods, as if confirming receipt of an order. “Good. That’s…”
Lucy braids her fingers together in her lap. “Why do you think the Princess was up that early?”
Flynn shrugs. “The old sleep lightly.”
“Maybe. But then… why send her maid to check up on me, rather than just waiting in the hall, or… Isn’t that a bit suspicious?”
“You’re the genius.”
“Ha, ha.” Lucy takes a deep breath. “I think it was the small space,” she says, “and the smell, not… I know you would have had to kill him.”
“I don’t understand,” says Lucy, a little desperately. “I don’t understand why he’s dead in that way.”
“You don’t need to,” says Flynn softly. “Still a genius.”
Lucy laughs; she dashes away tears. “Sorry. Right.” She takes a deep breath. “Breakfast. And then investigation. You and Connor will be the obvious sources of authority, so that’s something. And we aren’t stopped, so… the fictional murderer could have gotten away. But he didn’t, did he? The window was closed when… when you were there, too?” Flynn only nods. “Right,” says Lucy. “Breakfast.”
Rufus is absolutely sure that he does not get paid enough for this. Knowing that Flynn was going to kill the guy was one thing, but… He backs very hastily out of the room. Only belatedly does he remember to pull the door shut and locked behind him. Shit. Maybe reading more mystery novels would have prepared him for that? Maybe, on the other hand, not. Rufus turns a little jerkily, gets passed his own door, and knocks on the next one.
“Chambers!” He clears his throat; he doesn’t actually have to worry about waking people up. The more people dramatically roused, the better, in theory. Rufus knocks more loudly. “Mr. Chambers!” Probably best to use the title, even if he’d be on first-name terms with the guy in the present. Rufus knocks a third time, beginning to be genuinely frustrated. But just as he draws breath for a probably-anachronistic Hey, the door opens, and Chambers makes an appearance, his chestnut hair tousled, his pajamas buttoned askew.
“Um,” says Rufus, and swallows. “Ratchett. The boss. He’s dead.”
Rufus had always thought that reeling with shock was confined to the texts he’d been assigned in Brit Lit II: The Modern Novel and Beyond. But no, apparently: Chambers’ shoulder collides awkwardly with his doorframe, and he stares at Rufus wide-eyed. “Heart attack?” manages Chambers hoarsely. And then, straightening, with belated, hard-edged skepticism: “Are you sure? He might’ve…” He is (more energetically than successfully) putting on his bathrobe, moving to deal with the crisis.
“No,” says Rufus, “and yes. It was not a heart attack, and I am very sure.”
“How?” Chambers, not waiting to see if Rufus is following, bustles down the corridor.
Rufus counts to five. His second reaction (after “White dudes, honestly”) is a defensive one, and not only on his own behalf. He was stabbed, happy now? and also He had it coming. He supposes that it will be helpful, not having to pretend that he’s more than a little disturbed. He wouldn’t have expected Flynn to kill him that way. Rufus becomes aware that Chambers is waiting for an answer.
“Look,” says Rufus, and he opens the compartment door.
“Jesus. Go call the conductor.”
“Seriously?” says Rufus, before he can stop himself. Chambers blinks stupidly at him. “You didn’t even believe me; how do you think it’s going to go if I tell some French guy that there’s been a murder on his train.”
Chambers rears back a little, nods stiffly, and goes. Rufus takes a deep breath. He shuts the compartment door again, and stands guard in front of it. Being found going through his boss’s things would be a bad look. Presuming that Lucy has things under control is a safe bet. Rufus forces himself to breathe again — and then Chambers is back, with a slightly wan conductor in his wake.
“So,” says the man, “what is it that has happened?”
“You can get a doctor to look at him if you want,” says Rufus, “but this is definitely murder.”
There is a bit less plot in this chapter than originally planned; it has been a week. More of the usual and unusual suspects next time!
Only experience dining in world-class establishments on three separate continents alerts Connor to the fact that something is wrong. The tea he receives is strong and sweet; the eggs are perfectly cooked, and the toast not too heavily browned. But there is a slight spot on the tray where the tea has spilled, and the napkin is askew, slumped, as if hastily whisked into place, a practiced motion grown clumsy with surprise. Connor breakfasts unhurriedly, and waits for someone to tell him that there has been — hélas, monsieur — a terrible accident.
No such announcement comes. Connor listens to the hurrying footsteps in the corridor. At last, there is the hurried knock. “Entrez!”
“Monsieur,” says the whey-faced conductor, “il ya eu un meurtre.”
“There has been a what?” He would have expected Flynn to make it look like a heart attack.
“A murder, monsieur,” says the man, looking still more unhappy. Connor presses the corners of his napkin to his lips; it is not the first time he has used the gesture to hide his expression. “I am very sorry, monsieur.”
“I should think so,” says Connor wryly. “What…” It is not until that moment that it occurs to him that it may indeed have everything to do with him; that it may be one of the team who is dead. But Rittenhouse would have no reason to target Lucy, and they couldn’t kill Flynn, and surely, surely not Rufus, surely…
“I am very sorry,” says the man again, “but as the chef de train, I am — ” he spreads his hands in a Gallic gesture — “charged with this matter. And I was hoping that perhaps, with the citizens of all countries, you could… preside. One has the Princess, and the Count and Countess, and one does not wish, you understand, to provoke…”
“No, of course,” says Connor quickly, his equilibrium reclaimed. “Of course not. So,” he adds, “you have come to the League of Nations.”
“C’est ça, monsieur.” The conductor’s relief is palpable.
“Well,” says Connor, and he pushes away the almost-flawless breakfast tray. “In that case, the League shall, of course, do its utmost to promote open, just, and honorable relations.”
“Thank you, monsieur. We are most grateful, monsieur. The Company will, I am sure…”
“Yes, yes,” says Connor irritably, “we can leave all that. Just let me get dressed.” The man makes a hasty bow and a no less hasty retreat. “Well,” says Connor under his breath, “of all the extraordinary things. Whatever I expected the Orient Express to be like, I did not expect to end up playing Hercule Poirot.”
At the door of Ratchett’s compartment, Connor keeps his handkerchief over his mouth. Rufus and Chambers linger, shoulder-to-shoulder, behind the chef de train.
“I am not qualified to deal with this aspect of the affair,” says Connor decisively, and with intense relief. “I…” He clears his throat. “What I would like you to do next, monsieur, is to assemble the passengers in the lounge car. They must be informed of this unpleasantness,” he continues, before the man can interject.
The conductor sighs deeply, begins a gesture that is half of protest; but all he says is: “Bien, Monsieur Hannay.”
“Madame la Princesse, Monsieur le Comte, Madame la Comtesse, Messieurs et ’dames,” says the conductor, “je regrette de vous informer qu’il y a eu un… un incident très grave, la nuit passée. Afin que vous soyez dérangés le moins possible, Monsieur Hannay, de la Société des Nations, s’est déclaré prêt à conduire les enquêtes nécessaires. Monsieur Hannay.”
It is, of course, not the first time that Connor Mason has surveyed a room full of people waiting to hear what he has to say. But he takes great satisfaction in doing so here, in 1934, with Rufus hovering on his feet at the back of the car, with all the other faces upturned and tense. He notices that Flynn is covering Lucy’s hand with his own. He notices that the missionary, whether through arrogance or innocence, has seated herself squarely among her social betters, while the Italian and Chambers have ranged themselves behind the quality. He notices that Agatha Christie has an open notebook on the table in front of her. Connor swallows.
“I will,” he says, “take as little of your time — and, I hope, your patience — as possible.” What he has to do next is very clear, but he is not looking forward to it. I have been allowed the use of this compartment for the morning, and I propose to speak to you each in turn.” He clears his throat. “Madame la Princesse, if you would be so gracious as to accord me an interview?” The old woman’s mouth quirks, and she inclines her head.
“Oh, thank God,” says Connor, as soon as the conductor has shut the door behind Flynn and Lucy. “I had to take the Princess first.”
“Of course,” says Lucy soothingly, as she takes her seat. “What did you find out?”
Connor huffs out a breath. “Not much. Heard nothing, saw nothing, slept lightly. They seem to provide each other’s alibis for part of the night, curiously. Fräulein Schmidt is supposed to have read aloud to the Princess when she couldn’t sleep. From Eugene Onegin,” adds Connor, “which seems an odd choice. At all events: it’s a good alibi, if not slightly too good. Early this morning, both the Princess Shcherbatov and Fräulein Schmidt testify to having met the Countess Andrenyi, ah…”
“Yes,” says Lucy quickly. “We met in the hall. Neither of them was fully dressed.”
“Very well,” says Connor; “so far, so good. Now, for the love of what’s left of my sanity, tell me why…”
“He was dead when I found him,” says Flynn tonelessly.
Connor can feel the blood drain from his face. “Ah. So what…” he licks his lips… “what do we think…?”
“No idea,” says Flynn.
“That’s not quite true,” adds Lucy softly. “But we found nothing. We saw the room this morning, as well as last night, and we found nothing. So whoever wanted Ratchett dead, they also wanted it to be traceless.”
“So they didn’t want to incriminate anyone?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” says Lucy; she leans forward over the table. “The false clues, in the novel — they only backfired, in the end. So maybe, maybe this is an attempt to keep suspicion general, active, to draw attention.”
“But to draw attention from what?”
Lucy spreads her hands, a fluttering little gesture that Flynn follows with his eyes. “If Rufus hadn’t confirmed that Ratchett was Rittenhouse… But as it is, that’s one of the only things we do know.”
“Right,” says Connor, hoping he doesn’t sound as deflated as he feels.
“Fortunately,” says Flynn dryly, “we have you in charge of detective work.”
“Oh, thank you very much.”
“You’ll have to take Rufus last, anyway,” says Lucy gently. “You can tell him what you’ve learned. We’ll get by. And we can reconnoiter more easily than you can — let us be your chief suspects, and you can call us in for consultation as frequently as you like.”
Connor rubs the nape of his neck. “It’s a good plan.”
“Of course it is,” says Flynn.
“Don’t worry,” says Lucy; “Agatha Christie knows who we are, remember?”
“À bientôt,” says Flynn.
“Good luck,” says Lucy; and then they are gone.
Fräulein Schmidt is exceedingly correct. Both Signor Morrone and Mr. Chambers, albeit in distinctive ways, are effusively eager to be of assistance. By lunchtime, Connor is exhausted, but he is determined to see all of the passengers before relinquishing his post. At least the staff have kept him well-supplied with tea.
“Yes,” he says wearily, finishing a slightly lukewarm glass, “show her in.”
Without preamble, Fröken Kirsten Andersson says: “It is Satanic, you know.”
“Satanic,” she says decisively. Her mild face is undisturbed. “Devilish. Wicked. Like the work of the Devil, who is the Father of wickedness…”
“Yes,” says Connor rather hastily, “yes, I understand.”
“Well!” says Fröken Andersson, with satisfaction, and sits back, folding her hands.
“I would be very grateful,” says Connor, “if you could explain, Miss Andersson, ah… how you come to know this.”
“Because I have witnessed it.”
Connor grips the edge of the table. “You have…” He bites back his expression of incredulity. “Please, Miss Andersson, please tell me everything.” He takes a deep breath. “It may be important.”
“I have witnessed it,” she says, very seriously, “again and again. All this past year and more I have seen it, and it is getting worse.”
Connor blinks at her. “What?”
“The European soldiers,” she says. “In Abyssinia. It is very grave, monsieur.”
“Ah,” says Connor. “Yes. Yes, it… no doubt. But I am investigating, at the moment…”
“You are from the League of Nations, aren’t you?”
“So it is your duty,” says Fröken Andersson, and there are tears standing in her eyes. “It is very bad there, monsieur. Even before the latest trouble…”
“Yes,” says Connor, sure that there is desperation in his voice, “but that is not what I am investigating.”
Fröken Andersson sits back in her chair. She does not disguise her disapproval. “Very well,” she says. “Ask me about the death of this businessman. But myself, I think he was not a good man.”
Connor swallows. He reflects uncomfortably that Fröken Andersson might be that curious thing, a virtuous fanatic; and that she has not yet said anything with which he disagrees.
“Rufus,” says Connor at last, “I am inexpressibly glad to see you.”
“Great,” says Rufus. “Any particular reason?”
“Don’t test me. Agatha Christie alone would exhaust any man. She asked me if I thought she had committed the murder, and then gave me three reasons why she might have done it.”
“You may well say so. You should also know,” adds Connor, “that Flynn didn’t kill Ratchett.”
Rufus sits down rather suddenly. “Well, that’s a relief.”
“Well, yeah!” Rufus looks offended. “The guy’s ruthless, but he’s never been brutal, you know? I was reconsidering my decision to teach him how to play video games. Seriously, though,” he adds, “I just… yeah. I’m glad he didn’t do it.”
“Which is a tribute to your selfless nature,” says Connor, “particularly in view of the fact that it lands us with a remarkably unsavory murder.”
“Murder most foul,” declaims Rufus, “as in the best it is…”
“…But this most foul, strange, and unnatural. When did you read Hamlet?”
“You told me I should,” says Rufus. “I was 16.”
“Oh,” says Connor. He clears his throat. “Well,” he continues, trying for self-possession, “what do you think we…”
Speech and thought are cut off together. With a horrendous shrieking, and a roar like that of a thwarted animal, the train comes to a sudden and an appalling stop.
“Yes, Rufus.” He sits up, massaging his wrist. “In case you were wondering, that is in the book. I don’t know why humanity decided to travel through the mountains of Eastern Europe in the dead of winter.”
“Says the man who invented time travel,” says Rufus, reaching a hand to help him off the floor.
“A mode of transportation which, for all its faults, is not liable to seasonal disruption,” snaps Connor. “There are snowdrifts on the track. And I, for one, was hoping that this part of the narrative might remain strictly fictional.”
Connor, being hyper-literate and sarcastic, quotes from the charter of the League of Nations: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/leagcov.asp.
The French is deliberately formal and old-fashioned. If there are mechanical errors, though, please let me know.
“What the hell,” demands Chambers, with some asperity, “do we do now?”
Rufus rubs the back of his neck. “We’re suddenly unemployed on a stalled train. You tell me!”
“And prime suspects,” snaps Chambers; “don’t forget that.”
Rufus sighs. He supposes that his job requires him to turn this into a surreptitious interrogation. “Right,” he says slowly. “So, what do you think? Are we looking for some…” he hesitates for a word that will sound right in 1934… “some madman? Someone with a grudge?”
Chambers shrugs, shoving his hands into his pockets. He stares out the corridor window, as if the landscape might reveal some new potential, or a sinister figure, mocking them with an arch-villain’s jeer. “He’s a businessman,” he says evasively. “Plenty of enemies.”
Rufus moves to mirror Chambers’ posture. “Any in particular?”
“Look,” says Chambers, and he is back on the defensive, “I was under no illusions about the guy. I knew what kind of a guy he was. Taking his letters, I couldn’t help knowing. Threats, blackmail, extortion — and not all one way, either. You see enough crazy ideas, you stop being able to tell what seems likely any more.”
“Tell me about it,” says Rufus before he can stop himself.
“I don’t know,” continues Chambers, “it seems just plain nuts to me. What are we supposed to think? That he defrauded the businessman? Dishonored the conductor’s daughter? Looked sideways at the Countess?”
“I don’t know, that husband of hers just gives me the creeps.”
Rufus tilts his head. “Fair.” He wishes he didn’t feel like a traitor. Hoping Chambers doesn’t perceive it as a change of subject, he prompts: “So we’re the prime suspects.”
“The way I see it. Who else would have reason to kill him?”
Rufus sighs. “Wish I knew! But look at it this way,” he adds encouragingly, “what reason would we have to kill him? Now we’re unemployed on a stalled train.”
Chambers, surprisingly, grins; and it is a pleasant expression, entirely unlike the wolfish threat of Ratchett’s. “Fair enough,” he says. “Now I don’t know about you, but I am going to get myself an enormous drink.”
“Fair enough,” agrees Rufus, and the men part ways. Being Jeeves is one thing, Rufus decides; being Sherlock Holmes — or Hercule Poirot, as the case may be — is much harder. What he needs is an ally. Chambers, he thinks, is too ingenuous, and too impulsive. And besides, they are already linked by circumstance… and perhaps, in the minds of their fellow-passengers, by guilt. What he needs is someone else with whom he can communicate, through whom he can gain, if not the confidence, at least the tolerance of his extremely white fellow-passengers. Well. There is one who, by the logic of the 1930s, is rather less white than the others. And there is, moreover, the lesson of Casablanca: the guy who’s best friends with the Black dude is a New Yorker.
Rufus finds Signor Morrone in the lounge car, in the opposite corner from Agatha Christie, who is writing letters. Rufus takes the seat diagonally across from the man with whom he wishes to strike up a conversation; he picks up a newspaper from the table between them. Violence in Ethiopia; establishment of a trans-Pacific telephone service; no Nobel Prize in physics. Apparently, the League of Nations is seeking condemnation of the assassination of the King of Yugoslavia by a Bulgarian activist. Great. A fabulous time to be stranded in the wilds of the Balkans.
With a tempestuous sigh, Signor Morrone sets down his own newspaper. Rufus tries not to let out his breath too noticeably, not to smile openly. “It is a very bad business, this,” says the Italian.
“Awful,” agrees Rufus cheerfully. And internally he exults: I’m in.
All day Lucy has been the Countess Andrenyi. She has been imperious, and civil, and self-controlled. She has been alert to the behavior of her fellow-passengers and to her own. And now, the too-long day has drawn to its end. Now, at last, the train’s passengers — its prisoners — have gone to bed, and she is alone with her thoughts. She is alone, and the world is too quiet.
The train makes no noise, and it does not move. The only wind is distant and eerie in the pines. Along the tracks the air is still and close; it is as if all life were closed in by the snow. And Lucy cannot escape. She allows herself to cry because it is easier than the alternative. Why waste energy on trying to stifle herself, when the only person who might hear is a man who already knows the worst of her shame? Hot tears seep into the stiff and foreign fabric of her pillow. Crying yourself to sleep like a child, Lucy admonishes herself. Mom would be ashamed of you. But Dad wouldn’t have minded, adds a traitorous internal voice, and Lucy chokes back a sob.
“Mm.” I should tell him that I’m fine.
“Lucy, what…” He seems to think better of that question. Lucy hiccups slightly. Maybe he will let her alone. She hears the rustling of sheets; of course, he wouldn’t do the sensible thing. “Lucy, I’m getting up.” Inevitably, he looms over her, a strange and portentous figure in the moonlight. “Lucy,” says Flynn. She watches him moisten his lips. “Is it all right if I… touch you?”
She draws in breath in a gasp, but she nods. The weight of his hand on her ankle is still surprising: unexpectedly firm, and warm, and steady. His other hand comes to rest over her own. He murmurs — a few soft syllables repeated, nothing she needs to strain to understand.
“All right?” says Flynn at last, in English.
Lucy shudders, and swallows. “Better.”
“Do you…” Again he stops himself. “Is there anything I can do?”
She cannot help it: she begins to cry again. It is very hard to breathe. Her skin is too tight, and the roof is too close, and the compartment is too small, and…
“Would it be better if we went outside?” asks Flynn, and she sobs. “U redu.” He steps closer to the berth. “I can — lift you, unless…?”
For answer, Lucy reaches for his sleeve. She’s not sure she could stand if she tried. She closes her eyes hard, tries not to think about the closeness of the space.
“All right,” says Flynn again, as he sets her down. He keeps one arm around her, and she clenches her fists in the fabric of his pajama jacket. Lucy reflects, in a detached sort of way, that it is a good thing that he already knows her weakness.
“I don’t need…” she manages; but she shuffles her feet obediently into her fur-lined slippers.
“To će biti u redu.” Lucy is aware of a distant, dazed surprise when he kisses the crown of her head. Flynn himself draws quickly back, as if he too had been startled. Swiftly he reaches for their keys, shrugs into his greatcoat, gets them both into the corridor. This is better, but they are still shut in, shut in, shut in.
“Eh,” Flynn says to the slumbering conductor, “lève-toi!” The man starts, grumbling and rubbing his eyes. He straightens his tunic as he stands. “Nous voulons sortir.”
“Mais c’est impossible!”
“Ce n’est pas impossible, c’est même facile. Fais descendre les marches. Ma femme se sent mal, comme tu peux le constater; il lui faut de l’air.”
“Mais Monsieur le Comte…!”
“Je suis sûr,” says Flynn, “que tu ne veux pas des inconvenances. Pas avec la Compagnie, et pas avec moi.” He speaks quietly, almost affably, and even Lucy hears and recognizes danger in his tone. The attendant swallows visibly, and nods, and opens the compartment door.
Lucy shivers convulsively; it is almost unbelievably good to feel the fresh air. She is not quite sure that her feet touch the floor, but a few moments later, the door has been shut resentfully behind them, and they are safe, seated on the steps of the train with the world before them. She is still shivering, despite being wrapped in her own robe and Flynn’s greatcoat, but they are safe, and they are free. Lucy draws a deep breath, and relaxes against Flynn as she exhales. She can feel his own answering sigh. Lucy shivers, and breathes.
The pines tower above them. Out here, though, they are not hostile presences waiting to fall, waiting to crush the train and its passengers. Here it seems that the trees themselves breathe; Lucy breathes with them. The snow lies deep, and it glistens under stars that seem hard as jewels in the darkness of the night.
“Where are we?”
Flynn half-chuckles, a vibration beneath her. “God himself may know the borders of this place, but he isn’t telling. It must be Yugoslavia, in 1934. Emperors have fought for these forests and lost.”
“Mm.” Lucy settles herself more comfortably against him. “We could disappear in them. Just… start walking. We’d get lost among the trees. The trees would welcome us.”
Flynn’s arms tighten briefly around her. “You deserve more than a ghost story, Lucy Preston.”
“Maybe.” His coat is around them both, and she has stopped minding the cold. She is safe here; she is sheltered; she is not confined. “Tell me another one, then.” There is a moment’s silence.
“Well,” says Flynn slowly, “in a week on horseback — a day by car — we could be in the town where I was born.” Lucy starts; she does not dare to speak. “There you can see the sea,” says Flynn. “You can see mountains, and the sun is very bright. The city is very old; it is guarded by fortresses, and it is guarded by saints, and perhaps it is guarded by older things still.
“There is a convent,” he says, “with its church, dedicated to St. Lucy. Children play in the sunshine of its outer court. Old friends gossip in the shade of its walls, and always the sisters pray. Lucy is a saint with great courage, and clarity of sight. …Are you asleep?”
“Good.” He bangs on the door with his fist, and Lucy reaches up, and puts her arms around his neck, exhausted and trusting as a child.
The convent of St. Lucy exists; I would not have dared to invent it: http://benediktinke-zadar.com/benediktinski-red/hrvatska/benediktinke-sv.-luce-sibenik.
When she wakes the next morning, the first thing Lucy is aware of is warmth. The next thing she is aware of is its source. He seems to be almost on the edge of the berth, but he is sleeping soundly enough… with one arm half-pillowing her head and the other draped across her waist. Lucy shifts slightly. This she was not expecting. And she is sure that there’s no polite way to extricate herself. Lucy closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath. She feels some of the tension melt out of her shoulders. She wonders when she learned to recognize his scent, and when she learned to recognize it as a familiar reassurance. Lucy sighs, and flattens her hand over the pocket of his pajama jacket.
“Mm.” He responds with a soldier’s readiness, but still blinks several times, taking her in. Lucy wonders if she’s imagining the brief lightening of his expression, its softening into something like joy, before he comes fully awake. Does he still dream of a murdered woman in his arms?
“I’m sorry,” says Flynn hoarsely, “I didn’t mean to…” He swallows, moistens his lips. “I would have taken the upper berth, but you… you clung to me.”
“…Oh.” As if that weren’t damning enough, she’s fairly sure she’s blushing.
“I’m sorry,” says Flynn again; “I’ll…”
“No!” She says it more quickly than she means to, grabs at the placket of his pajamas a little too roughly; she watches his eyes go wide. “I just…” says Lucy. “You’ll knock your head if you aren’t careful. And you don’t need to… you don’t need to apologize.” Or run away; but perhaps that is not a conversation either of them is prepared to have, even presuming that it were something that he would want to hear. “Thank you,” says Lucy. “For last night.”
“Il n’y a pas de quoi.”
Lucy smiles. Faithless to her own earlier intentions, she stretches, settles herself under the covers. Would it be such a bad thing to stay here a little while? Would it be impossible, to ask if she might share his bed again, instead of remaining trapped in her solitude?
“Flynn,” says Lucy; and there is a knocking at the door.
“Merde! I’m sorry,” he adds; and she shakes her head, and allows him to extract himself. The knock comes again before he has finished knotting his robe. “Eh, un peu de patience!”
Flynn keeps his arm firmly across the half-opened door; beneath it Lucy meets the bright, inquisitive eyes of Signor Morrone. “The gentlemen,” he announces importantly, “are digging out the train.”
“Digging…” repeats Flynn. “With spades?”
“Si! It is the idea of Mr. Grimes and myself, we see if we can get the train moving across Europe with a little American hustle.”
Flynn sighs audibly, and Lucy bites a fold of the sheet, afraid of laughing at the thought of what his face must look like.
“You don’t want to help, maybe?” continues Signor Morrone. “You not want to be free of this, get to police where they find how this terrible thing is happened?”
“Yes,” says Flynn, “all right. I’ll be along shortly. Signor.” He shuts the door firmly, having given the man his congé. Lucy supposes that, on balance, it is a good thing for one of the passengers to have glimpsed her like this, tousled and sleepy in a bed they have both occupied. Lucy chews her lip thoughtfully.
He pulls the communication cord with unnecessary vigor, then faces her. “I’m sorry.”
She smiles up at him. “You keep saying that.”
He shrugs, turns away, hangs up his robe and begins to lay out his shaving things. Somewhat brusquely he orders hot water from the man who answers the call. He washes in the basin as matter-of-factly as if he were used to it, but Lucy cannot help shivering in sympathy. She tries not to think too much about his scars: bullets from three centuries, a knife wielded by a convict, a knife wielded by a spy. Lucy shivers again. She gets up, decides that borrowing his robe would be less likely to result in bodily injury than climbing to the upper berth for hers.
“You don’t mind, do you?” she asks, in answer to his look.
“I — no. No, not in the least.”
Her answering the door for the hot water is a strategy, to let herself be seen like this: the Countess, rising late, wears her husband’s robe. She sets the ceramic cruet next to the basin. “Voilà.”
“Je te remercie,” says Flynn, with mock formality, and she makes a face at him.
“It’s a good idea of Rufus’s,” says Lucy, curling up at the foot of the bed. “Allows for information-gathering… the formation of alliances, maybe.”
“Mm.” Flynn taps the razor against the bowl. “Or for someone to get hit in the head with a spade.”
He looks at her a moment in surprise, then laughs. “Touché. Will you… you’ll be all right?”
“Of course.” Under other circumstances, she thinks — even a few days ago — she might have taken umbrage at the question, but not now. Not now. “I’ll be all right,” she assures him. “I will sit in the lounge car looking pale and interesting, and invite all the gossips to sit next to me.”
“Good.” For a moment he considers her thoughtfully, lips half-parted… but in the end he discards the shaving towel and turns to buttoning his shirt in silence.
“I don’t think we’re looking at a conspiracy,” says Lucy. “Secret societies are rife in this period, of course — I hardly need to tell you that — but there’s no reason that any of them would want to kill a Rittenhouse agent.”
Flynn nods, accepting this. He slings a scarf around his neck, shrugs on the coat with its astrakhan collar. “À plus tard.” And swiftly, as if out of habit or instinct, he takes Lucy’s hand in his own and kisses it. The door has shut behind him before she has recovered from her surprise.
Lucy dresses as quickly as she can; she is still cold. She supposes that no amount of aristocratic entitlement would allow her to spend the day with Flynn’s capacious silk robe draped over all her layers. Perhaps she could wear her coat indoors? There is a knock on the compartment door. Lucy opens it on the chain, and wonders if she is being foolish to do so, or if it would be foolish not to.
“Madame la Comtesse?”
“My mistress sends to say that — since it is so cold — she will make tea on the samovar.”
“C’est très gentil de sa part,” says Lucy; “please tell her as much. I shall be along shortly.” Lucy closes the door again. Despite what she has said to Fräulein Schmidt, she is not at all sure that the Princess Shcherbatov is being kind. It will be, of course, pleasant to be gathered around a steaming brass kettle, sharing the heat of tea and bodies, rather than shivering in an individual corner. But it may also, Lucy thinks, turn out to be quite dangerous.
They are, she thinks, an incongruous group centering around the Princess, who is perfectly erect and yet somehow more relaxed than her companion. Fräulein Schmidt, in her good, heavy woolens, appears on edge, restless. Lucy wonders if, perhaps, she questioned the wisdom of calling the women together like this, of inviting them all to sit around the elaborate samovar that the Princess is transporting across continents. Next to her sits Fröken Andersson, slumped and unselfconscious, a length of knitting taking shape in her lap. Agatha Christie is facing her hostess with aplomb, discussing the irresponsibility of gossip about the fate of the Romanovs. And Lucy herself — with the privilege, she supposes, of the Countess Andrenyi’s rank — is seated at the Princess’s right, with Agatha Christie at her other side.
“I do not like it,” says Fräulein Schmidt decisively. “I do not like it, to be shut up here like this.”
“Come, my dear,” drawls the princess. “It is an interesting social experiment, we may call it.”
“Indeed,” says Lucy, feeling that the conversation might be in need of direction. “It’s always interesting, getting to know people on a train. And sitting around drinking tea like this — ” she gestures with her cup — “we are perhaps the most equal society in the world.” Lucy sips her tea. “In America, not even democracy is democracy.”
“Meaning,” says Fröken Andersson, surprisingly, “that the rich have one society and the poor another.”
“Meaning exactly that,” says Lucy. “Which you may find hypocritical, coming from a Countess.”
“No,” says Fröken Andersson. She counts her stitches. “You are honest. And it has always been so. So says our Lord.”
“But the parables of the Gospels,” says the princess drily, “do not always express the order of modern society.”
“I’m not arguing for the kind of violence you’ve experienced,” says Lucy quickly; but the princess makes an imperious gesture, and she falls silent.
“There are many kinds of violence,” says Princess Shcherbatov. “And stupidity and arrogance have created much suffering in my country, not only since the Revolution.”
“Well,” says Lucy with a sigh, “the same is true in Hungary.”
“And everywhere,” observes Fröken Andersson.
“But here,” persists Fräulein Schmidt, “we are so far from civilization!”
“Civilization,” says Agatha Christie rather thoughtfully, “can be dangerous. More dangerous than the wild places of the world, I sometimes think,” she adds, in response to the quizzical faces turned to her. “There are no safety valves, you see. Think of how difficult it can be just to go for a long walk. And one is always, somehow, expected back to tea.”
This speech is followed by an extremely uneasy silence. “But,” says Lucy finally, “mustn’t we always create a civilization?”
“Society, surely,” rejoins Agatha Christie equably, “but not civilization. Ask Miss Andersson here.”
“It is so,” says the missionary, nodding earnestly.
“But attempts to create the ideal society,” says the princess, “have not proved notable for their success. Not in history, and not in our own day.” Lucy cannot shake the idea that there is some amusement in her expression, though her voice is grave.
“Still,” says Agatha Christie, “people will keep trying to create utopia… though perhaps only if they are very good, or very wicked.”
Interwar politics are fascinating and Agatha Christie had opinions about them, as about the concept and reality of 'civilization'; see particularly The Man in the Brown Suit.
Also, yes, Flynn has switched from using the 'vous' form to the 'tu' form when talking to Lucy. (That he should begin by using the 'vous' form I take from films/novels about the Francophone social elites of the 1930s.)
I should acknowledge here Robin McKinley's Beauty, which introduced 9-year-old me to the "...You clung to me" line as Peak Romance.
I'm traveling for the next few weeks, so updates may be delayed, but I have the last few chapters written, so I should be able to catch up when I get back.
Chapter 13: Investigation Again
In which clues are discovered.
Connor exercises his diplomatic prerogative, and does not go with the others to dig with spades (Signor Morrone will keep using the redundant phrase) under the silent, skeptical gazes of the crew. Connor supposes, idly, that betting on the antics of the passengers must make a nice change from betting on card games, in these long hours when there is nothing to do but shiver, and hoard coal, and wait for the weather and the snow to shift. Digging out is not, in fact, a bad idea. If it were, Rufus wouldn’t have gone along with it. But if the drifts are removed from the track, the remaining snow will have a better chance to melt. And whatever else might still come down the mountain will be given a clear path, rather than a resting place. It’s not a bad idea. Still, even setting aside his own fastidious objections, Connor finds that uneasiness prickles under his skin. They have been stuck for almost twenty-four hours. It cannot be long before tempers begin to fray, before façades begin to crumble. And one of the men on the train — or women, Connor reminds himself — is a murderer.
“So,” says Connor quietly to himself, “time to exercise the little grey cells.”
The chef de train is not entirely happy about giving him a master key — League of Nations or no League of Nations — but Connor stares him down. He does not have to remind him in so many words that the investigation is taking place by his personal grace and favor. The situation, after all, is a desperate one; and the man has no desire to have such a death on the nerves of all his passengers.
Connor investigates the compartments, patiently and systematically. He reads private correspondence. He goes through pockets. He knows better than to expect an obvious clue; he knows that he might find something incalculably dangerous (a modern gun, a modern bug, a modern tracking device.) He discovers that Signor Morrone uses hair dye. He discovers that Fröken Andersson, so untidy in her personal appearance, is surprisingly neat in her habits. Nothing else does he find among her things to disquiet him. Connor still thinks that the woman, with her intense passions, her matter-of-fact acceptance of absolutes, might have it in her to kill a man. But then, she might neatly wash up the murder weapon and put it back into her suitcase… or return it to the chef in the galley, with thanks.
He goes into the compartment of the Count and Countress Andrenyi largely for the sake of appearances. Also, there’s always the chance that Lucy might have anticipated him, and left a note. Connor finds himself wondering with increasing frequency how formidable that academic intelligence of hers might turn out to be, if she stopped treating it like something that needed to be apologized for, or explained away. But there is no note. The compartment is kept in unimpeachable order. Connor sighs. He’s not sure why he should be made slightly melancholy by the impeccable organization of it all. Perhaps he is thinking too much of the antiseptic cleanliness of his own house — residence and showroom, venue and status symbol, never a home. Perhaps he is wrong in thinking that his unlikely colleagues would be happier with a little disorder than with the comb and razor parallel to each other and the sink edge, with the Liberty bag neatly filled and neatly closed over the elements of a countess’s toilette.
“You’re getting sentimental,” says Connor aloud. He shakes himself slightly, and moves to the next compartment.
He resists — almost completely — the temptation to go through Agatha Christie’s things. Only briefly does he allow himself to glance through the notebooks with their newspaper clippings, scrawled remarks. He does check the sponge-bag and the traveling case, in case something might have been planted there: life imitating art, as it were, before the art existed… Time travel. Connor chuckles to himself, and restores the washcloth, Pond’s cream, and other impedimenta to their appointed places.
After a perfunctory search along the lines indicated by the novel, Connor leaves the Princess’ room as little disturbed as possible. He respects her, that very upright old lady with the surprising sense of humor. And Eugene Onegin, in a tooled leather binding, rests on the little table next to the bed, bearing out her alibi. To the adjoining compartment of Fräulein Schmidt he devotes more attention. Physically if not psychologically, she is stronger than her mistress; in a purely technical sense, then, she might have committed the murder. And she is, too, a woman of limited imagination, and limited perspective. Such people can make bold criminals. But Connor finds nothing of interest except an assortment of powders, a few very battered books of German poetry, and a truly astonishing number of hairpins.
Chambers’ room is the room of a secretary, and it is kept quite punctiliously clean. The portable typewriter is covered, the inkwell closed, the stationery in neatly squared piles. The almost depressingly ordinary suits hang in rows; nothing has distended their pockets. Connor finds himself unreasonably annoyed: surely there must be some irregularity? Surely there should be something to explain this man’s link, however fortuitous, with the murdered Ratchett? It is more to relieve his feelings than anything else that Connor goes so far as to look under the pillow. A whiskey flask. Well. Depending on the quantity of the whiskey — and depending on the man — that might signify a great deal of trouble and expense. And as Connor has reason to know, many have entered into unsavory connections for less.
He goes into Rufus’ room chiefly so that he can say that he has done it. It had been extravagant of Ratchett, no doubt, to book separate compartments for each of his servants, but then it afforded more space for his luggage. It would have ensured, too, that they could not gossip about him; Connor wonders about that. Rufus’ characteristic untidiness Connor finds homely and reassuring. He idly hangs up a shirt, makes sure that nothing has been concealed in corners, taped to ceiling or floor, planted in the berth. It is only at the last that he checks the wash cabinet. And there, affixed to one side of the door so as to remain invisible when the cabinet is closed, very neatly fit between the hinges, gleams the knife.
He takes it with him. He can think of nothing else to do. Whoever hid it will — surely? — presume it undiscovered until and unless the alarm is raised. He will tell the chef de train that he has made progress. Connor will tell him that he will have a solution by tomorrow. And he knows that he had better. The alternative hangs in the air, the more ominous for being unknowable. This calls for a council of war. Hardly safe to include Rufus in such a clandestine meeting… but then, if he’s being framed as the suspect, he’ll hardly be in physical danger himself. Connor consciously deepens his breath. He also orders himself a very stiff drink.
The men come back quarreling. “I don’t see,” Rufus is saying, unusually excited, “why we should quit when we’re making such progress.”
“Please,” says Signor Morrone. “We have done much. Il signor Conte is right, it is not wise to make ourselves freeze with cold. The train it cannot be heated.”
“Well!” says Chambers. “And you wanted to show these guys American hustle! Your version, maybe, but…”
“Gentlemen,” says Flynn. He does not raise his voice. The others fall silent, and Connor hides a smile in his drink. “Let us not spoil our work. Allow me to buy the first round.”
This has the intended effect, yet Connor cannot help wondering if it is altogether wise, to diffuse tensions instead of allowing them to run their course, to bring what consequences — and what clues — they may.
Connor gives them precisely seven minutes over the first drink: to relax, to warm up, to compare aches and pains. Then he leaves his position at the bar. “Veuillez m’excuser…” This with a little bow to the company. “Monsieur le Comte,” he says, “il faut que je vous parle.”
Flynn nods and rises. “Je suis à vous.”
“So,” says Flynn, when they are in the corridor, “it could not be said there.”
“No,” replies Connor tersely. “Although, if you’ll permit the remark, you seem to have missed your calling as an interwar diplomat.”
Flynn’s grin is entirely mirthless. “Indeed?”
Connor tilts his head. “Well, you may have a point. Fighting a rear-guard action against sinister international cabals and the self-interest of the worst kind of politician wouldn’t be entirely an unfamiliar occupation for you.” Flynn glances at him, his brow furrowed in apparent surprise; and then he is knocking lightly on the door of the compartment. Connor, assuming this is a formality, nearly walks into the other man’s back.
“Ma chère,” says Flynn, “serait-ce possible de recevoir Monsieur Hannay?”
Connor cannot quite make out the answer — and privately, he thinks that the ceremonious precaution might be excessive — but he follows Flynn docilely. All of them, he reminds himself, have been betrayed by Rittenhouse in the past.
Lucy is clearly already alert to the fact that this is an urgent and confidential conference. Connor cannot help noticing that she looks quickly to Flynn before reassuming her careful composure, before directing her attention entirely to him.
“Yes?” she says.
“I found a knife,” says Connor, “In Rufus’ room. I took it with a handkerchief,” he continues, extracting it from his breast pocket, “but I don’t suppose insufflator powder was part of our kit?”
“No.” It is Flynn who speaks; Lucy is staring at the knife.
“It’s not the characteristic dagger of some secret society, is it?” asks Connor pleadingly. “I can stand a certain amount of cloak-and… well, of this sort of thing, but…”
Lucy runs a hand through her hair. “No,” she says, and lets out a breath. “No,” she says again; “it’s perfectly ordinary.”
“So it doesn’t get us any forrader?”
“Oh, I think it does. I think…” She breaks off. Flynn, Connor notices, does not move in restlessness or surprise; only his eyes flick sideways to her, and rest there until she resumes.
“Connor,” says Lucy, “can you keep playing Poirot?”
“Is there an alternative?”
“Less than twenty-four hours,” says Lucy. “Maybe less than twelve. We need to have this settled before we get to Brod.”
“Don’t worry,” says Flynn dryly, “our labors were in vain.”
“Tomorrow morning,” says Lucy decisively. “I’ll have it worked out by then.”
“May one ask what you are working out? Why Ratchett died?”
“Oh no,” says Lucy. “That’s solved. He died because of us. What we need to know now is who the second Rittenhouse agent is — although I think I have that already — and what Rittenhouse wants with Lindbergh. And why.”