Prandium was a pleasant meal, with Aelwen dispensing smiles and cuddles and the adults chatting lightly. By the time everyone had progressed to spiced milk and tiny cakes, Aelwen’s head was drooping like a poppy on its stalk so Julia buzzed Luned who came and bore the little one away for her afternoon nap.
Once they were gone, Julia looked shrewdly at her guests. “There is a fire in my sitting room, and a decanter of Llewelyn brandy. We can be comfortable and undisturbed, and you can tell me what the problem is.”
Lavinia took Marcella’s arm. “I told you Julia would see there was something wrong.”
“You did, Mater, and you were right. The question is more whether or not she believes me.”
“When we are all sitting by the fire you can try me.” Julia ushered them into her sitting room and closed the door.
Lavinia settled her daughter on a deeply cushioned settee and sat beside her. Vulpes came to stand beside his mistress with his big head on her lap. She smoothed his ears and turned her sightless eyes on Julia.
“I heard somebody being killed last night.” When Julia didn’t react she carried on speaking. “Because I’m first violin, and because I’m blind and need a dog, Vulpes and I merit a dressing room to ourselves. Anyway, after the performance last night somebody from the hotel where we are staying was supposed to come and collect me. But they must have forgotten. It wouldn’t be the first time. And somebody always remembers in the end.” She patted her mother’s arm. “It’s okay, fach, as long as I have Vulpes with me I’m fine. But I digress. There is a big sofa in my dressing room, so Vulpes and me cuddled up. I must have nodded off, because I woke up feeling a bit disoriented. Vulpes was growling softly, but I shushed him and pulled a blanket over us both. He remained alert and I became aware of voices. Quiet voices, three or maybe four, arguing viciously. They seemed to me to be talking about some sort of a scam or con trick. One of them wanted out, but the others weren’t having any. Said he was in too deep to quit. He suddenly seemed to snap, and shouted. ‘I’m out and you can’t stop me.’ One of the others laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound. Then I heard a sort of a muffled pop. And the sound of something heavy falling to the floor. I didn’t dare move or make a sound, and even Vulpes kept silent although all the hairs on his spine stood on end. We heard something being dragged along the corridor outside. Then whoever came back. Laughing. Said something like ‘nobody will find him there’. Then they went away. I was just wondering what I should do when I heard a familiar footstep. It was Claudius, my umm… sort-of boyfriend, come to find me. For some reason I didn’t want to rock the boat, even with him, so I kept my mouth shut and just pretended to be asleep…”
Marcella wound down and, by the look of her, she was on the verge of tears, but Julia’s investigative instincts hadn’t been blunted by her time out of official law enforcement.
“That isn’t all, though, is it?”
Marcella stopped stroking Vulpes and her hands writhed together miserably in her lap.
“No,” she whispered. “I think somebody suspects I heard. And I don’t think they are the sort to leave living witnesses behind.”
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