Episode 43 - the "credit cookie":
What About Lina?
What About Lina?
by Camille LaGuire
Lina waited in the shadows near the inn for Captain Rozinshura to return. He had not come back with the car. She didn't know where he was. She should give up and go back where she belonged, but she was afraid to. It was easier to worry about the book and the note and what happened to them.
Perhaps the captain had read it. Perhaps he had done the right thing with it -- he would probably know better than she would. But she did not know that he had, and she wanted to fulfill her promise to the dying man. So she waited.
Presently Captain Rozinshura arrived, riding a sturdy little donkey he must have appropriated along the way. He rode to the back of the inn and Lina followed, sticking to the shadows, hoping she might blend in with the other soldiers who stepped out to talk to him.
She made her way closer as he listened to their reports. Before she could get close enough to try to pick his pocket, he sent the soldiers on their way. She retreated hastily to the shadows.
He sat there, on the donkey, alone in the stableyard, his head tilted as if he were listening. Had he spotted her? No, he tilted his head the other way and then after a moment, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a book. Her book!
He studied the book for a moment, and then put it back in the pocket of his great coat, and reined the donkey around and left.
She followed as they ambled back to the train station, and then beyond the station to the little warehouses along the tracks. He stopped at the shed where Professor Thornton had been locked in. There he dismounted, and took down the lamp from the post and went into the shed.
Lina ducked closer. The lamp cast deep shadows, so she took a chance and slipped inside. She wasn't sure what she was going to do. If she still had that sword, she would rob him, but perhaps she should talk to him...
Ah, but then he set down the lamp on a barrel and took off his great coat. He threw it over a barrel in the shadows, and went to examine the spot where Professor Thornton had been held, where bits of rope and newspaper wrappings littered the floor.
The coat was in darkness. Lina slipped noiselessly to it and began to search the pockets. There were keys, and gloves, and what felt like a bit of candy wrapped in cellophane... but no book.
"Baronessa!" said Rozinshura, without looking up from his study of a bit of newspaper. "I am pleased to see you. I have your book over here if that's what you are looking for."
Lina froze, he turned and waved the book at her.
"You are the Baroness of Beethingham, yes? Lady Pauline--" He paused to consult a notebook. "--Lady Pauline Anne Marie Tritt-Woolsey Beethingham Smythe? Also known as... is it Pink or Plink?"
"I'm beginning to like Lina better," she said with a sigh, and she stepped out of the shadows. "How did you know it was me?"
"Mental brilliance," he said, and he shifted back to sit on a box. He gestured for her to do the same. "Once I knew the book did not belong to the old man, it had to be yours, yes? And it is an Imprish book, and the note is written in Imprish. Not like an Awarshi country woman would ever do. And it is written backwards, like the code in silly books like this. So it is someone who reads a lot of such books. Perhaps a foolish young noblewoman with romantic ideas who runs away with her dancing teacher."
"That could have been Miss Vilthrop."
"The valiant Miss Vilthrop, yes. She took a great risk for you."
"I know. I think she was actually trying to help the ambassador by distracting the bandits, but regardless it did save me. You could have done her the curtesy of suspecting she's the one who escaped."
"The bandits had her, they did not have you." He paused. "And also, the inscription in the book says 'To your ladyship. Low fiction for the high born, your cousin, Basil.'"
"So you didn't deduce any of this!" she said hotly. "You just read the inscription!"
He shrugged. "You may have your book back, but if you want the paper, you must answer some questions."
"You've read it?"
"Yes, and I reported the rumor of a coup attempt to Vshtin himself. However I did not report the names, since I didn't know if these people are in on the coup."
Pauline felt the tension go out of her shoulders. That was what she was most worried about. Some of the names were of innocents. The note by itself could cause arrests of the wrong parties.
"So it's being dealt with?" she said.
Rozinshura hesitated for a very long time.
"It is known," he said. "What is being done is beyond what you or I shall ever know."
"But still, it's over. I did what I set out to do. The message has been delivered to someone who can do the right thing."
"My dear Baronessa!" exclaimed the captain. "In Awarshawa, the right thing is not so simple. And the job for you and me is far from done. Do you think, for instance, that Pookiterin is competent?"
"No, he didn't strike me as being particularly bright."
"He's a brainless fushtir!"
She looked at him without comprehension, and he blushed a bit as if the word were not polite, and he struggled a moment to find a proper translation.
"He is a sniveling yes-man, who does whatever his superiors tell him without a thought. If you have an important plan, with train wrecks and kidnappings and a bomb and a coup, do you send a lap dog to handle something so unpredictable as a train wreck with spies on it, all alone with only two guards?"
"I don't suppose you do."
"Unless.... you want him to be caught."
"So when the coup failed, they sent him here to set him up?"
"No, they sent him before the coup failed. There was no emergency. No reason to send a fool, unless they planned to fail." He paused and held up the bit of crumped newspaper. "But even that makes no sense, because this newspaper is from today. I think it was wrapped around the Cussar sword, which means it was brought here on this train. If this was part of a plan to frame Pookiterin, he should have had it from the start."
"So what should we do? What can we do?"
"First you must tell me how you came to write this note. Everything, every detail. And perhaps you should start with why you did not reveal yourself. It would have been much easier to simply say you are the baroness and not get arrested or have trouble in the first place. Why did you disguise yourself, and then stay in disguise even when you were arrested?"
"It was jolly good fun?" she tried. He simply held her gaze and waited. And of all the people in the entire world... this fellow might be one she could trust. "Captain, I did not run away with my dance instructor. My dance instructor was murdered, and then I ran away. I think one of my own people is trying to kill me, or harm me, and I don't know why."
Rozinshura rubbed his head and sighed.
"This happened in Imperia?"
"So it should not be my business, except that the bandits were looking for you, so perhaps your murdered dance instructor is my problem. You must tell me the whole story..."
And this really completely ends The Case of the Misplaced Hero.
The next story, The Case of the Misplaced Baroness!, was interrupted this spring -- you can read the first 12 or so episodes. However, The Misplaced Baroness will return in November! Watch for it.
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