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 14

Kitty, The Cub Reporter

The cell they took me to was cold and gray, lined with rivet-studded metal plates on three sides and only bars on the fourth. There was a cot in the back sporting a scratchy blanket with rust stains on it, and a bucket of cold water with a ladle to drink from, but no facilities to deal with nature’s call. I thought this meant they’d only keep me here for a short while, until they reached the inevitable conclusion that I was a harmless cub reporter who’d been robbed, just like I said. Nothing to worry about. All straightened out soon.

More fool me, as they say.

Some hours later, I finally called the guard over to present him my urgent request, as that had become the less embarrassing of my available choices. He nodded and handed me a little metal dish to use. “Need it back,” he said. “Say when you’ve finished.”

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more humiliating episode in my life. Not even when the Olson boys were calling me an occultist and a Satan-worshipper, right after my father was killed.

Still, I did what I was told. But what happened next was completely baffling — the guard dipped some sort of paper strip into the dish and then stared at it for a minute, his eyes growing round and his mouth thinning into resolve. He hurried away to his post. I could hear him dialing a phone, and then speaking in clipped, urgent tones, though I couldn’t make out any of the words.

He came back with a pair of handcuffs, dull black and so old they were covered with scratches that almost looked like writing. He chained my hands behind my back and marched me through a maze of narrow gray corridors, up and down stairs, until I thought we must surely have traveled every inch of whatever building I was in.

The room he finally left me in, though, was different: bright and white, with a golden wood table in the center, and matching chairs with plush cushions. There were no windows in the walls, but far above the ceiling was entirely glass, so the room was bathed in sunlight. I was surprised at that, thinking it was surely night; but given the events of the past day — two days? — my sense of time was hopeless, anyhow.

“Wait here,” the guard told me. So I waited.

After he left, I sat at the edge of the chair and realized how staggeringly hungry I was. And thirsty. I guess the last meal I’d had was that sandwich outside the train station. My shoulders ached from holding my hands behind my back. My head had started to ache, too, and my clothes had been on my body too long, so I was growing itchy and surely I smelled like a vagrant by now.

I watched the sunbeams slide by and tried to imagine myself in the staff room back at Barton & Barton, waiting for the coffee to perk. Had I really still been working there not but a week ago?

Eventually, a woman came in: on the tall side, with a short haircut and excellent posture. Her lipstick was a festive red, but her lips were not smiling. She looked like she might not know how to smile, honestly. “Miss Kinsey?” she asked.

“That’s me. Please, can we get this all sorted out now?”

She sat across the table from me and spread out some papers from her clipboard. I could recognize some of them as daddy’s, and there was a photograph of me looking bewildered — when had they taken it? I’d never seen a camera.

“You’re accused of some very serious offenses, Miss Kinsey.” She shuffled through the papers, her brow furrowed.

“But I just — I was on the train and somebody stole my papers, surely I can’t be the first person —“

“Have you been to Midway before?” she asked. She picked up one of my father’s letters and read it, frowning all the more, if such a thing were even possible.

I shrunk a little. “No.”

She looked up at me from her papers for the first time, her stare like diamonds. “Your father. He was Sam Kinsey, wasn’t he. The… the reporter?”

“Yes, had you heard of him?” Hope sprang hot in my breast.

“These papers belonged to him, didn’t they?”

“Yes. But some of them were stolen —“

She leaned back in her chair, tapping a thoughtful finger to her red lips. “I think I have a way to clear this up more quickly. Wait here.” As if I had a choice in the matter.

She left the room and strode back in a moment later with a birchwood box with copper bindings. Inside were neat rows of glass vials filled with strange unguents or chemicals. The woman unlocked the handcuffs and moved me to another chair, then placed my hands palm-up on the table. “Close your eyes,” she told me. “If you open them before I say, then I’m afraid you’ll be our guest here for at least a year.”

I thought of my mother by herself for twelve lonely months, wondering what had become of me. I clenched my eyes tight.

I heard a rustling as she unfolded a paper, then clinking as she presumably chose a vial, or several vials. The room filled with the scent of salt, camphor, oak and brandy. Then I felt something like a paintbrush stroke the palms of my hands and the tips of my fingers. “Keep still,” she said. “This is going to hurt. But don’t open your eyes.”

I flinched as she stuck me with a needle, once in each palm and again in each finger. And then nothing: I couldn’t even hear her breathing.

“Well,” she said, after a while. She sounded surprised. “Wipe your hands off.” She pressed a cloth into my hands; I did what I was told. I could hear her closing up the box.

“Right. Open your eyes,” she said. “The oil on your hands is poison. There’s probably still a bit left, so don’t put your hands anywhere near your mouth until you’ve washed. Someone will be in for you shortly. Tell them Commander Slade said to burn that cloth.”

I nodded uncertainly. “So I’ll be free to go?”

She smiled then, against all expectation. “Almost,” she said. “You’ll have to be our guest here for a while, I’m afraid. But not our prisoner.” And then she placed a careful hand on my shoulder for a moment. “I knew your father,” she said. She paused for a little too long. “He was a good man, too. For a while. Don't follow his path.”

She left me with my bloody cloth and my thoughts, those black handcuffs still on the table.

The Midway authorities put me in a lovely room after my strange interrogation. I mean, lovely compared to the cell, with a proper bed with sheets on it and a little water closet and even a shower, all perfectly white. The tiled floor from the WC extended into the main room, and there was a drain in the middle of the floor under the bed, like the whole thing started out as a locker room, or, or something else. It didn’t have curtains or pictures on the walls, and the furniture was all gray-painted steel, but at least it had windows. Still, it was by no means the European luxury I’d imagined would await me on my first-ever trip abroad.

Some of my things were there already — my valise from the train with my clothes, and of course my journal, but not my father’s papers and of course not any of the things that had been stolen.

The first thing I did was turn the shower on as hot as I could endure and just stand there for a while, thinking about that awful woman and my father and Midway and all of the things that have gone wrong in such a short time. I must have spent an hour in there, thinking and planning. It’s all been very intimidating so far, to be sure, but here I’ve been behaving like some sort of frightened chicken, answering questions meekly and doing what I’m told.

I’ll be putting an end to THAT, have no worry on that front. Kitty Kinsey is no milk-maid to be pushed around and told what to do. I’m not my father’s daughter for nothing, you know.

Anyway — the towels are softer than they look, and when I got out they’d left me a truly amazing tea tray with a bit of cheese, a half a loaf of bread, a tiny crock full of some sort of lentil stew with duck in it, and a carafe of red wine. Oh! And these delightful little nougat gems with fruit in. If they’re feeding me as well as this, maybe they’re telling the truth I’m not a prisoner.

Now I just need to have a nap and I’ll be back to my own self. When I’m rested I can get on with getting my papers back, maybe even tracking down the rest of them, and get my money and Mr. Cooper’s introduction to Prague. And I’ll do my best to follow my father’s footsteps and get to the bottom of all this, and make him and my mother and Mr. Cooper proud.

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