The Bulgarian ambassador is found eviscerated in his London quarters, and Major Sonja Slade of the Prussian Army searches for his killer while trying to forget her own ties to the dead man.


Week 12

Kitty, The Cub Reporter

When I was nine years old, Tommy Parker took me behind the gym after school and taught me every swear word he knew. His father had been in the service during the war, so his vocabulary was truly impressive. English of course, but also German, Dutch, Italian, even Tagalog. I can’t remember half of it anymore. But even if I could remember each and every vulgarity, it wouldn’t be enough to express how I feel right now.

You’d think being in a plane crash would be enough for one day, but no. When they were done questioning us and making sure we weren’t about to die from the fright, they took us to the airport and cast us adrift, to catch our next flights or a train or a cab to the place we had meant to go to all along. There were no more flights, much less the flight to Bulgaria that I was supposed to catch. There may never again be another flight, the way the people who run the airlines were acting. I overheard a few hushed conversations about ‘offshore weather’ and ‘dangerous atmospheric phenomena.’ Though to be sure I wouldn’t want to fly through that storm again, either.

I might never want to fly in an aeroplane again, for that matter.

At any rate — before long it became perfectly clear that the quacking airline people were going to be of no use to me, so I collected my valise and took a cab to St. Pancras Station to try to catch a train to the continent, instead. The station was like nothing so much as a jar stuffed completely full of bees, hot and buzzing, everyone knocking into everyone else. With some considerable effort, I found the line to buy a ticket. Or I should say, the line was easy to find — the end of it, though, was another matter, snaking all around the station and then outside and around the block.

At that point I was still looking on the bright side of things; after all, I’d just survived a plane crash, and surely all of my ill luck had been used up for the day. At least I got a chance to see a little more of the city, I thought, and looked up at all of the lovely old stone buildings. I wished I could take an hour or two to see the sights. They sometimes let you tour the old palaces, you know, and it would have been a treat to get a look at them, before they fall too much further into disrepair or made into offices. Verum Cor Britannia and all that.

Still, I had a job to do and a foreign country to get to, so instead I stayed in that abysmal line, sitting on my valise and flipping through my father’s old notes. The couple in front of me were Spanish, I think, and kept up a muttered diatribe that I couldn’t quite follow. Probably about the waiting. There was a woman with two small children behind me for a while; but after about twenty minutes, they gave up and left. The line had moved perhaps ten yards in that time. I tried to do the arithmetic and worked out I was going to be in the line for approximately the entire rest of my life. A woman on a bicycle with a hamper of sandwiches on the handlebars came by eventually, just as the line had moved far enough to at least see the entrance to the station again. I bought myself a soggy egg salad sandwich and desperately wished I had a crossword to do.

Eventually, eventually, after what felt like it must have been three days (but was probably more like eight hours) I was in the station, and in the line, and it looked like I’d be set to buy my ticket. That’s when I first saw that woman. Tallish, hair an indeterminate color that might be brown or might be blonde. She was dressed in a checkered coat and patent pumps, but she held herself like it was an admiral’s uniform. And she was watching me. I gave her a smile and a nod to let her know I’d cottoned to her, but she didn’t look away. She just kept looking at me, boring right into my eyes, until I looked down first. But when I looked up for her again just a bare second later, she’d vanished into the crowd.

I wouldn’t have thought to remember it, much less write about it, until a bit later. But right then, a horrible uproar started from the front of the line. It rippled back toward me like a shockwave: a shouted babble of “They’re closing the ticket office,” and “There are no more trains for a week,” and “Let me by!”

The shouting turned ugly, and then it turned into jostling, and before I knew it, I was pinned in that horrible mob while fists flew all around me. My valise was torn from my hands, and my hat tumbled off my head and was crushed underfoot. Someone’s elbow met my ribs with a thud. I elbowed back, and then tried to swim through the people to get my things, to no avail. And then a pair of strong hands grabbed me and dragged me backwards and through an innocuous side door. Seconds later, a man carrying my bag came through, and just barely got the door shut — angry pounding rang through the steel of it and echoed through this little office.

The woman in the checkered coat was there, arms crossed. She pursed her lips and looked me over, then motioned to the two men — the one who had my bag, and the one who had me by my upper arms. They followed her into a dreary, confusing warren of concrete and bare light bulbs, and me and my things were hauled along.

Then we emerged onto a platform — and a train there, completely empty. They pushed me onto it. The woman pursed her lips again, then said, ‘This will take you to France through Midway. Don’t leave your seat for any reason. Do you understand?’

I nodded, wide-eyed and a little cowed, and certainly confused about why they’d put me of all people on this train, out of all of the howling mob we'd left behind. She nodded with satisfaction and then left me there. Not that this was any bad thing — the train was easily the most luxurious vehicle I’ve ever been on. Wide, plush seats of red velvet, brilliant brass fittings everywhere, stained-glass lamps. Simply gorgeous.

The train wasn’t empty for long. A few minutes after I arrived and settled in, passengers began trickling in. The train was completely packed — more than packed — and the riot I’d just escaped seemed poised to move onto the train, too, but for the net of police officers and their serious-looking sticks cracking a few skulls and getting the would-be extra passengers away from the doors. Then the train whistled and lurched forward, and the last few hangers-on fell away, valuing their life more than the ride.

I felt a little queasy watching it all, to be honest. But then a nice man in a black uniform with gold cord gave me a glass of champagne. I’d never had it before, and to be honest I didn’t care for it so much, but it simply wouldn’t do to look unsophisticated when you’re in a situation like mine, so I drank it all. It made me sleepy, I think; or maybe the swaying of the train did, or maybe it was just that I’d spent hours and hours traveling. At any rate, I fell fast asleep before we’d gone even two miles, daddy’s notes pillowing my head.

I missed coming into Midway as a result. I’d been looking forward to seeing that famous archway, too, no matter what awful things they whisper about it. I’m no green sapling to believe any old myth meant to frighten little children. But I didn’t miss Midway entirely.

I woke again when the train lurched to a stop, and an army of conductors or inspectors flooded in, shouting in English and French about how our train had been flagged for — I couldn’t make it out, contraband, maybe? — and we’d all have to disembark. An inspector gave me and my valise a flinty look as I tried to collect myself. He demanded to see my papers.

I reached into my handbag for my passport, but it wasn't there. I rummaged through my belongings. Half of them were missing — my passport, my blood certificate, the box of odds and ends belonging to my father were all completely gone. In my panic, I knocked the thick stack of father’s papers and photographs I'd been resting my head upon. They tumbled and scattered onto the floor of the train. I scrambled to get them, but the inspector grabbed my wrist, moustache twitching, and took them out of my hand. His eyes narrowed.

‘This is the one we were looking for,’ he shouted to his colleagues.

I kept as cool a head as I could, which was shamefully not very cool at all, as they converged around me. I tried to explain who I was, where I came from, and that this must all be some terrible mistake. But they didn’t seem to believe a word I said, they just kept waving daddy’s photographs at me and accusing me of treason, trafficking contraband, and high offenses against the Treaty of Midway. Whatever that means.

The lone bright spot is that apparently Midway doesn’t have authority on its own to do anything about it. So now here I am, stuck in a dim gray room in Midway, waiting for the consuls on either shore to decide whose problem I am. Besides my own, I guess.

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