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 (27 page)

BOOK: The Clairvoyant Curse
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“You knew she wore a wig?”


Bien sur
.”

“Tell me about the photo.”

“There was man in it. He looked
like one of them well-fed Catholic priests who are keen to lecture
young women who are starving hungry on the mysterious ways of the
Good Lord.”

“Perhaps it had been dropped
earlier by Madame Moghra and Dr Hu was planning to return it to
her?”

She shook her head firmly and
followed with a triumphant smile. “There was Chinese writing on the
back of it – that’s how I knew it belonged to him.”

“What did he say when you
returned it?”

“Nothing. He went into the
bathroom, so I slipped it under his door later that night.”

Chapter 20 - Snookered!

 

It was the calm before the
storm. The strong south-easterly wind that had been buffeting them
all morning suddenly died. Huge black storm clouds banked up,
obscuring the grey glint of the sun. The sky was full of ominous
menace.

Inside, things were looking
brighter. There were several people who wanted the medium dead
apart from Dr Watson. This was a positive step forward if it came
to a criminal trial. Unfortunately, the brooch had not yet been
found and no likely weapon had turned up.

Yesterday, the library was the
most popular place on the ship, today it was empty. Given that
departed spirits posed no problem to those who made their living
from death it was surprising, though perhaps the spiritualists
wanted to distance themselves from the murder scene lest their
morbid interest point the fickle finger of fate their way.

The Countess decided to check
for any clues she may have overlooked. She went to the bookshelf,
stood with her back to it, and surveyed the comfortably furnished
room. The wing chair, table lamp and planchette had not been moved.
She checked the floor, the cushions and the remainder of the
furniture. The killer was not stupid enough to drop the weapon. She
closed her eyes and tried to picture Dr Watson standing in the
centre of the room. She went to the place where he stood to aid her
recollection. His hands had not been clenched - that suggested he
had not been gripping a weapon. Hang on! He had been wearing his
tweed suit! That was odd! Surely he should have been wearing his
tartan dressing gown or even those quaint flannel pyjamas he
favoured. Did sleepwalkers get dressed before going walking? Did
they bother to conceal their weapons? Surely that would imply some
sort of awareness of their actions. Was that a positive or a
negative? Better not to mention it to anyone just yet.

She turned to look at the
bookshelf. There were several gaps where books had been removed,
including the French almanac. The Arabic almanac had been replaced
upside down. She turned it right way up. The two books Madame
Sosostras had looked at were not flush with the others. The
Countess often did the same thing to mark a book she wanted to come
back to later. She decided to leave them as they were.

From the corner of her eye she
spotted Reverend Blackadder flit past. He was returning to the
billiard room that had been vacated by Mr Ffrench who had since
decamped to the bar to drown his sorrows. The reverend was stacking
the red balls in the triangle when the Countess walked in on
him.

“Care for a game of
snooker?”

His thin lips formed a wry
smile as he set the seven black balls on the green baize. “I won’t
say no.”

“We are in for quite a storm
tonight,” she said conversationally as she selected a cue and
chalked the end. “Has the wind started up again?”

“I’ll say it has! Blowing a
gale! Croquemort and I tried to play a game of quoits on the aft
deck but it was impossible to stay on our feet. We were nearly
blown overboard! By the way, you need to speak to your man. He has
run off with the darts.”

“Are you sure?”

He placed the six coloured
balls on their correct spots on the table. “Yes, we looked
everywhere for the second set. He had them last. He was playing a
game with Dr Watson yesterday afternoon. You can break first.”

“He does not normally misplace
things,” she offered in Fedir’s defence as she whacked the white
and scattered the reds in a dozen different directions. “He may
have taken them to Dr Watson’s cabin to help him pass the
time.”

“Nice break! Maybe they blew
overboard!”

His quip was not really funny
but she laughed anyway, it helped to smooth the path for what was
to come, but he pre-empted her.

“Go ahead and ask,” he said.
“You are going about questioning everyone to see if they had a
motive for killing the white witch.”

“Who told you that?”

She managed to pot a red and
then a coloured ball in a side pocket. The coloured ball was
returned to the table as per the rules of the game. She repeated
the shot, then struck a red but failed to pot it.

“Bad luck,” he said. “I heard
you talking to Crispin. I also heard my name being mentioned as I
turned to go so I decided to hang about. I hid behind that green
baize folding screen where I am painting some ghost images on glass
slides ready for our American show, which may be a waste of time
now that our trip may not go ahead since the star of the show is
dead. Anyway, I heard him dob me in.”

The white ball hit the edge,
ricocheted to the other side, and knocked in a red. He beamed and
knocked in a coloured ball next, but failed to follow up by missing
the red, creating a foul.

“You don’t sound too upset
about being dobbed in?” she commented, fouling her shot
deliberately and allowing him back into the game.

He chalked his cue. “Being her
lover would have come out eventually. Better to get it out in the
open. Yes, I could have killed her when she told me she was
retiring and dumping me but I didn’t get the chance. By the way, if
your friend killed her in his sleep how did he do it? I understand
Crispin did an examination of the body this morning. I hope he was
sober.”

“Yes, but his findings were
inconclusive.”

“Probably poisoned,” he
suggested casually, taking his shot and missing, creating another
foul. “That’s a doctor’s usual method.”

“When you went into the library
last night did you think it possible Madame Moghra may already have
been dead?”

She potted the red and a
colour, another red, then sank the white.

“Heart failure? Good theory!
Stick with that! You just sank the cue ball!”

“Oh, dear, I was going for that
yellow one. What do you think?”

“About her being dead?” he said
as he lined up his shot.

“Yes.”

“Hey! Did you see that! The red
rebounded three times before going in! That was a good shot even if
I say so myself! It’s certainly possible.”

“You went in for your
cigarettes?”

“And my lucifers – I finally
found them on the desk by the porthole window. Someone had moved
them from the side table where I’d left them.” He sank a coloured
ball and then another red and then the pink and so on until all the
reds were potted.

It was time to pot the colours
in order: yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black. He missed his
shot and hit the green instead.

“It looked as if you spoke to
her. Did she answer back?” She deliberately whacked the white ball
so hard it almost bounced off the table. She elicited a small
silvery laugh to signal embarrassed relief when it rebounded and
sank the yellow as if by fluke, then carefully missed the next
one.

He laughed too. “Take it easy!
Don’t try so hard,” he advised, lining up his shot. “Yes, I asked
her if she’d seen my lucifers but she didn’t answer. I thought she
was pretending to be asleep.”

“Pretending?”

“Her mouth was open but she
wasn’t snoring. People usually snore if they sleep with their mouth
open. I thought maybe she didn’t want to speak to me.”

He sank the green and then the
brown and then the blue, but missed the pink. He patted down his
golden halo of hair, pleased with himself overall.

“You appeared to lean over her
for some reason?” She potted the pink and several black then
missed.

His eyes narrowed as he leaned
over the table and the low-hanging billiard light caught him full
on the face. The electric glare cast downward slanted shadows. He
suddenly looked like one of those vaudevillian villains everyone
loves to boo.

“I didn’t realize you were
watching me so closely?”

“It was an innocent
observation. I didn’t think anything of it at the time.”

“Yes, well, I thought something
was caught in her hair.” He played and missed.

“Did you know she wore a
wig?”

“Of course! It’s the result of
too much Venetian ceruse. She did not know the meaning of
moderation.”

She positioned the cue ball in
an impossible spot for him to get around, a classic snooker shot.
“So what did you think was caught in her hair?”

He chalked his cue as he
circumambulated the table thinking about how to get around the cue
ball. “It was something metallic. It caught the light. But when I
leaned closer it was just one of those feathery geegaws women
fancy, a hairpin that must have become dislodged when she fell
asleep and ended up tangled up in all that fluffy flummery she wore
to hide her baldness.”

He took his best shot and sank
the cue ball.

“Oh, bad luck,” she said
sincerely before finishing off the game. “Did you happen to notice
if she was wearing her brooch?”

He grimaced. “She was
definitely wearing it. It was the first time I saw it close up. I
could see the fine detail in the silverwork, the way the leaves
furled, and the bevelling on the amethysts to give them depth. I
remember thinking that it was a nice bit of workmanship by a master
jeweller. Another game?”

The Countess smiled
magnanimously as she replaced her cue on the rack. “I might quit
while I’m ahead and it is almost time for lunch. I better change
into something more appropriate.”

Xenia would have laid out the
oyster grey moiré satin an hour or two ago. Fashion etiquette said
she should have changed into it prior to midday.

His voice caught her at the
door. “Before you rush off, I wonder if you have considered the
possibility that Croquemort hypnotized Dr Watson?”

His suggestion grabbed her
imagination with both hands and gave it a violent shake before she
reminded herself - and him – that Croquemort was a mesmerist not a
hypnotist.

“On stage he is a mesmerist,”
he dismissed, “but off-stage I’ve seen him hypnotise dozens of
people, and since we are dobbing each other in, well, he had the
best reason in the world to wish the white witch dead.”

The Countess was so stunned she
almost walked into the green baize screen.

“Watch how you go,” he warned,
laughing good-naturedly, “or you’ll up-end the camera obscura, the
paintbox, and all the glass slides that I’ve spread out on the
table to dry.”

She mumbled an apology as she
rushed toward the stairs.

The sound of a gong alerted her
to the buffet lunch being served in the dining room. It could be
heard throughout the public rooms. She would have to change her
clothes after her meal – a sartorial calamity if the ship had had
its full complement of passengers, but something she might get away
with in an intimate group considering the circumstances.

Captain Lanfranc would
apparently not be joining them at table. The approaching storm was
keeping him busy in the wheelhouse. Monsieur Bresant was there to
answer any of their questions. He proved to be a man who kept his
cards close to his chest. No, the brooch had not been found. A
thorough search was still underway. None of the crew had been
discovered to be hiding anything suspicious. The maid who
discovered the body was of good character and very much distressed
at being implicated in anything untoward. No murder weapon had
turned up, if in fact Madame Moghra had been murdered – there was
still the possibility she may have died from natural causes and the
brooch simply mislaid or lost. This had been his experience on
previous voyages where valuable jewels had gone missing and then
suddenly turned up in some unlikely spot prior to disembarkation.
Thanks to the latest modern equipment fitted on board the SS
Pleiades, meaning the ship to shore wireless device, a member of
the Surete would be meeting the ship in Biarritz as soon it docked.
The French police inspector would take charge of the investigation
and any further questions might best be saved and directed at him
once he was apprised of the facts.

Monsieur Bresant, mindful of
his position, did not join them at table, but stood with his hands
clasped behind his back and his legs braced as he answered all
questions as truthfully as discretion permitted, before bidding
them
bon appetit
.

Miss Morningstar’s sing-song
voice was the first to break the silence. “I think Madame Moghra
killed herself,” she announced with cheerful childish relish like a
naughty schoolgirl announcing to all and sundry during a special
school dinner that the headmistress had a hairy wart on her chin
and the school chaplain had hairs growing out of his nose. “Madame
Moghra was growing old and she couldn’t stand the thought of
turning into a wrinkly hag plus her aura had changed colour. It
wasn’t blue-green anymore, it was an evil murky shade like marsh
slime.”

“Oh, do shut-up,” slurred Mr
Ffrench, slurping from his spoon. “You are turning me off my oyster
soup.”

“I think Miss Morningstar might
have a point,” said Reverend Blackadder, buttering some bread.
“Madame Moghra had been acting strangely all day.”

“In what way?” pressed the
Countess.

“As if she’d seen a ghost or
something,” he replied vaguely.

“Talk about old age!” sneered
Mr Ffrench, still slurping. “You are growing feeble in your
thinking, Blackadder, reading too much Madame Blavatsky and not
enough Rousseau or Carlyle. It has warped your brain.”

BOOK: The Clairvoyant Curse
11.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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