Read The Clairvoyant Curse Online

Authors: Anna Lord

Tags: #feng shui, #murder, #medium, #sherlock, #tarot, #seance, #steamship, #biarritz, #magic lantern, #camera obscura

The Clairvoyant Curse (14 page)

BOOK: The Clairvoyant Curse
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The constable turned to
Monsieur Croquemort.

“You are in charge of the

“Yes,” replied the Master of

“Did you send the girl on an
errand last night?”

Monsieur Croquemort shook his
head, looking momentarily bewildered. “No, I’m sure she followed us
out of the dining room. We all went to our rooms to get an early

“I will need to speak to the
members of your troupe to confirm that statement. Is anyone, apart
from the girl, missing?”

Monsieur Croquemort’s eyes
quickly scanned the magic cirque. “We are all here.”

Mrs Merle, the American
astrologer, pushed abruptly to her feet and addressed herself to
the young constable, fixing him with her lorgnette. She had been
seated at a table for one by the small bay window overlooking the
river. When she rose it was as if a tall-masted galleon had
suddenly steered itself through the window and pulled into dry
dock. “Does this mean the sailing time will be delayed?”

“And you are?” he put to her
rather brusquely, keen to assert himself.

“Mrs Evangeline Merle.”

“I take it you are referring to
the SS Pleiades?”

“Yes, and I hope to arrive in
Biarritz on the twentieth. I will be giving a lecture at the World
Spiritualist Congress on the morning of the twenty-first on the
topic of the significance of Mercury retrograde in astrological

The young constable had no idea
what she was blathering on about and did not wish to be bullied. “I
have already contacted the captain of the vessel, Captain Lanfranc.
He assures me he will have you in Biarritz on the twentieth
provided we sort things here by midday.”

“Midday!” interjected Dr
Watson, sounding surprised. “That’s rather fast for a murder

“Who mentioned the word
murder?” said the constable, undaunted, turning to look at a
doughty fellow Scot before allowing his inquisitive, pioneering
gaze to drift in the direction of his elegantly attired, much
younger, glamorous companion. “The dead girl was not violated nor
was she assaulted. She either slipped into the river after losing
her footing, perhaps venturing too close to the edge in the fog
while enjoying a last cigarette before going up to bed – smoking
being prohibited in rooms above the first floor - or she took her
own life. More than likely it was the latter. We fish a lassie out
of the Clyde almost every day of the week. It is always the same
story: pregnant, unmarried, jobless, penniless…a sorry state but
there it is. I will need to speak to all the people intending to
travel on the SS Pleiades. Captain Lanfranc informed me there were
only a handful of passengers booked for the voyage – the vessel
being not yet in official service.” The constable pulled a paper
out of his coat pocket and unfolded it as his eyes counted off the
heads in the dining room. “I have a list of thirteen names here. I
presume two are currently absent?”

“Thirteen?” echoed Mrs Merle
ominously. “That does not bode well. Are you sure it is

The constable straightened his
shoulders. “Quite sure, madame.”

“I thought there were to be
eleven,” queried Dr Watson.

“The two extra would be my maid
and manservant,” responded the Countess. “I have booked them into
twin rooms on B deck. And it is twelve passengers now that Sissy is

The constable was surprised
that a lady would book cabins on B deck for her servants. He’d
heard these luxurious new steamer ships were extremely large, plus
the ship having such a small complement… but still. He had several
cousins who were seamen. They told him the most commodious cabins
were to be found on the Promenade deck. They were fitted with
porthole windows and had doors that opened directly into the open
air, not into tight corridors that smelled of spew and bilge water.
B deck was next for stateliness but not even the inspector of
police could expect to afford that level of comfort. C Deck was for
the working classes, while D deck was reserved for servants and
riff-raff. Crew members were below that in hammocks which they
oftentimes had to share 2 to a bed, taking alternating shifts, day
and night to avoid doubling up. Either the lady had cash to burn or
she was a fool.

“And you are?” he said, raising
his voice an octave or two.

“Countess Varvara

It took a moment for the
multi-syllabic foreign name to register.

“I must ask you all not to
leave the hotel this morning,” he said, his voice shooting up
another octave while looking directly at the Countess but
addressing the room. “I will be in the reading room across the
foyer which the manager of the hotel has made available to me for
interviewing purposes. If you will please come in one at a time,
starting with Monsieur Croquemort, and then the rest of the Magic
Lantern troupe and then the others following in any order you

“Interview?” said Mrs Merle,
taking umbrage and rising to her full six feet once again. “What on
earth do you want to interview us for, constable?”

The young constable remained
officiously steadfast against the intimidating bulk of the
giantess. “It is my task to establish everyone’s whereabouts during
last night.”

“We were all in bed!” blared
the American astrologer indignantly. “Where else would we be!”

“If that is the case, madame,
then the interviews will be brief and you will all be on your way
in no time at all. But until I can satisfy such-like for myself I
must ask you to be patient. The sooner we start the sooner we will

Mrs Merle was about to voice
her thoughts on the matter of the young constable’s satisfaction
but took heed of the dark looks of her fellow passengers who were
keen to start sooner rather than later and finish the same way. She
sucked back an exasperated breath and sat down. A palpable sigh of
collective relief could be heard as the young constable marched
out, followed by the spidery Master of Ceremonies.

As soon as the door to the
dining room closed, however, Mrs Merle voiced her concerns.

“I hope this tragic accident
will not delay
departure past midday,” she boomed across
the room, although it was more like a threat, and woe betide anyone
who might choose to provide the constable with anything other than
a brief explanation of their sleeping habits.

“Might as well have another cup
of tea,” announced Dr Watson, feeling suddenly chipper, wondering
if perhaps his luck had changed for the better and that voyage on
the ship of fools might be cancelled altogether. Now, there was a
thought! Feeling optimistic, he made his way to the buffet,
whistling to himself as he poured a fresh cup of Earl Grey plus
another for the Countess, but when he returned to the table she was
nowhere to be seen.

Countess Volodymyrovna had
slipped unobtrusively out of the dining room, overtook Monsieur
Croquemort as he crossed the foyer, and caught up to the constable
as he entered the reading room. She closed the door on the Master
of Ceremonies with a courteous: “
Un moment, s’il vous

The young constable was feeling
rather pleased with himself. He had handled that hulking biddy
rather well. He’d been with the police force less than six months.
Normally he dealt with all the boring tasks, chasing street urchins
and pickpockets, or else he fished girls out of the drink. This was
the first time he’d had the chance to prove his worth. He opened
the curtains, arranged two chairs at the small round library table,
looked hopefully toward the door and his face dropped. “Where’s the

The Countess, who felt the
young constable was out of his depth and could do with some
assistance, radiated an irresistible smile. “I would like to have a
brief word or two, Inspector MacTavish, before you commence your
interviews. Monsieur Croquemort is waiting outside.”

These hoity-toity types really
got up his goat. Always had to be first in everything. Aristocratic
entitlement was putting it mildly! “It’s constable, not inspector,”
he corrected, wondering if she had done that deliberately to butter
him up. “You will get your turn when the time comes - if you
wouldn’t mind returning to the dining room until then,

He couldn’t recall her name
off-hand. All he could remember was how it was a foreign mouthful,
and he didn’t want to check the list of names in case he got the
pronunciation wrong. But Duchess was a good moniker for any one
with airs and graces – half the tarts touting their titties were
called Duchess!

It was an inept and obvious
attempt to butter him up so she ignored his impertinence, what’s
more she had already decided to skip the preamble she had rehearsed
while crossing the foyer. “I wonder if you would mind if I sat in
on the interviews?”

That took the cake! Who did
this blueblood think she was! He congratulated himself in advance
on keeping a straight face while he told her exactly what he
thought of her idea. “I think not, Duchess. Please return to the
dining room so that we, meaning me, can get started.”

“I don’t like to blow my own
trumpet, Constable MacTavish, but you are possibly unaware that I
recently solved the Baskerville case in Devon involving the
unfortunate death of the baronet, the Lammas golf course murders
here in Scotland on the Cruddock estate, and the murders in York
involving the authoresses of Penny Dreadfuls.”

Constable MacTavish was
astounded. Well blow me down! He had heard about the murders, of
course, and the so-called beautiful, rich, young lady who had
solved them but he believed the stories to be sensationalized for
the sake of selling newspapers, or as the Reverend Taft liked to
put it in his Sunday sermons - apocryphal.

She decided to take advantage
of his stunned silence. “I may be able to help, you see. I stayed
up late to have a tarot card reading from Madame Sosostras here in
this very room, after my companion, Dr John Watson, the confidante
of the great consulting detective, Mr Sherlock Holmes, had retired
for the night, and I saw several people, coming and going. I will
be able to verify if they are telling the truth. It will help you
to establish the facts without delay, otherwise obfuscations and
contradictions may muddy the waters and the death of the maid may
never be adequately resolved – and certainly not before midday. I
am Countess Volodymyrovna.”

Gobsmacked, he nodded and
motioned her to a chair, having weighed the pros and cons of her
rather longwinded speech, telling himself that it couldn’t really
hurt his chances of success if she sat in. This wasn’t a murder
investigation as such, just a preliminary inquiry to back up the
initial presumption of suicide that Detective Inspector MacBride
had formed after the body of the girl was fished out of the drink
even though she turned out to be a travelling tart rather than
another poor Glaswegian lassie.

He waited until she settled
herself in the chair directly opposite his, facing the window,
smoothing down her skirt and placing her unblemished hands on the
table, one elegant hand over the other, revealing a gold wedding
band on the right hand which seemed to him the wrong hand. He
checked his own hands to make sure his right and left was the same
as always and had not switched itself around while he wasn’t

“I would appreciate it if you
did not interrupt and if you left me to take the lead with the
questioning. In other words, don’t speak unless you have to –
understood, Countess?”

Chapter 11 - Constable


Constable MacTavish had a flat
crop of short brown hair, the makings of a moustache that was yet
to flourish, and a face full of freckles that made him appear even
more boyish. He reminded the Countess of a Jack Russell terrier –
keen, alert, eager to please, quick to bark, and when he listened
he put his head to one side the way a dog does when listening to
its master.

“Come in!” he called sharply,
summoning the man waiting patiently on the other side of the door.
It sounded like yap, yap.

Monsieur Croquemort entered
with oily dignity, his pomaded hair and curling moustache
impeccably in situ, noting with a quirk of wily dark brows the
Countess seated at the table in the chair meant for him. He had lit
up a cigarette while waiting in the foyer and had brought an
ashtray with him. He paused to exhale before closing the door.

“I was under the impression I
was to be the first to be interviewed?”

“That is correct,” confirmed
the constable peremptorily - another yap, yap, yap. “Please pull up
a chair. The Countess is assisting in the capacity, of, er…”

“In the capacity of consulting
detective having assisted Scotland Yard several times with similar
enquiries,” she finished smoothly for him.

The constable was astute enough
to envisage the same question being asked with monotonous
regularity by each subsequent interviewee and decided to nip it in
the bud.

“At the conclusion of this
interview, upon your return to the dining room, Monsieur
Croquemort, if you will let the others know the Countess is
assisting the police, it will help to speed things along. Now, as
to your whereabouts during the night?”

The keen young constable
flipped a brand new notebook and licked the tip of his freshly
sharpened pencil while the man on the other side of the table
gathered his thoughts.

“We finished dinner at around a
quarter to ten and went upstairs to our rooms.”

“We?” prompted the constable -
one yap.

“The six members of the Magic
Lantern troupe – Madame Moghra, Reverend Blackadder, Miss
Morningstar, Mr Crispin Ffrench, Sissy and myself.”

“Did you leave your room at any
time during the night?”

BOOK: The Clairvoyant Curse
5.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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