Episode 11 - "The Gentleman With a Cold"
by Camille LaGuire
She'd had no trouble getting past the ticket agents and such, but she had a nervous moment when Lady Blinkersley's entourage blocked her way at boat side. Plink held her collar high, coughed a lot, and croaked out an "Excuse me."
The only one who gave her much of a look was Lady Blinkersley's companion -- a nervous little woman named Miss Vilthrop, no first name ever given that Plink had ever heard. However, what little could be seen of Plink's face was obscured by a pair of glasses, and a false moustache and beard she'd acquired during her stop in the theatre district.
It was a nervous moment though. Miss Vilthrop gave a small start, like she recognized Plink, but as soon as she saw Plink's mustachioed face, she seemed embarrassed, as though she didn't recognize her after all. She hurried to get the porters to move the luggage aside so Plink could pass.
Plink bowed and growled some thanks, and hurried up the gang plank onto the boat.
As she went, though, she heard voices hailing the ladies behind her. Distinct Freedonian accents. She thought for a moment that Mr. X and friends might have found her, but as she paused to listen closer, she could not recognize the smooth tones of Mr. X.
Still, when she got up on the deck she turned to look. The Freedonian, Alder Graves they called him, was short and round and effusive. His suit was expensive and his accent was coarse and betrayed no culture at all. He laughed and talked and waved a cigar. She had smelled smoke in the hall where Antonio had been killed, but she thought it wasn't cigar smoke. It smelled like perfumed cigarettes, actually. She hadn't thought anything of it, because it was the sort of thing Antonio smoked.
But now that she thought of it, it didn't smell quite like Antonio's cigarettes either. Nor like a cigar.
Still, if Mr. X were an actor, he could pretend to be an effusive man with a rough accent, couldn't he? All she knew of him was the sound of his voice and possibly the smell of his cigarettes. Things easily covered or faked. Of course this man could also be a colleague, enemy or have nothing to do with X.
With the help of a junior purser she found the cabin reserved by Antonio. She coughed and croaked at the man.
"I am sick in the lungs," she said, in a fake foreign accent. "I wish to stay only in my cabin and not bother anyone with the coughing."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Nestlegraf," agreed the purser eagerly. "Of course."
"Can I have tea and a light supper brought to me there?"
"Yes, yes, of course," said the purser, and he seemed eager enough to get Plink into her room and the door shut between them. She decided not to reassure him that she didn't have plague.
The room was fair sized, and a trunk stood in the corner. It had a label with the name Anton Nestlegraf on it, and the name of a hotel in the city where the boat would dock.
The trunk was not locked, and she took that as a sign that there was nothing important in it. A quick search showed she was right. Only clothing and personal items. Some of the clothes were dresses, however. Possibly to go with the passport for Countess Antonia Bish-something-a.
Plink collapsed on to the bed. She was exhausted. She'd hardly slept, and that was a short-lived drugged sleep, from which she'd been wakened by a train nearly rolling over her. She'd been running ever since, hadn't she?
The heavy suitcase, though, beckoned. She opened it and quickly removed the contents. It took only a moment to find her way to release the false side of the case.
She found papers, all in a foreign language -- Truvian, she thought, as that was Antonio's native language -- and behind that, well-packed wads of money. Several currencies, but most of it Awarshi, which was worthless outside of Awarshawa, and not worth much inside.
But if he were carrying Awarshi money, didn't that indicate he was headed for Awarshawa? And wasn't that where the peace conference that the Blinkersley's were headed to? Or was it somewhere in Truvia? Truvia was under Awarshi "administration" wasn't it? Political this and that going on there. Trouble.
There had been a number of diplomatic people at her party. Lord Blinkersley had gone on ahead, but most of Lady Blinkersley's cultural whatsis had been there. And Antonio, as hired host, kept an eye on all of them. It was his job to make sure everyone was having a good time.
Plink sat on the bed and thought hard. Memories of the night before -- now seeming so long ago -- floated to her. Antonio greeting her when they went into the great hall to play games, and a funny look on his face as he looked beyond her at someone. Plink had started to turn around, but someone else greeted her and she never looked, never saw what concerned him.
She pulled out his tickets and itinerary. The ending point was the city of Tiva. Yes, that's right. That was in Tuvia, and, it seemed to her, it was the sort of place you'd hold a peace conference. An old and lovely city on the sea.
She looked again at the suitcase. Heavy as paper could be, it did not account for the weight of the bag, she thought. She looked deeper and realized that the remaining wall of the suitcase was quite thick. Too thick.
Plink peeled back the paper lining and found beneath it....
Coins, to be exact, all packed carefully in sheets of cardboard with holes punched in to hold the coins still. The coins had eagles on them -- Republic of Freedonia gold pieces.
Was that was Mr. X was looking for? She was too tired to care.
When a porter arrived at her door with a tea tray, Plink covered herself with a robe and put a towel over her head and let the man in. She asked him, between feigned fits of coughing, if the ship's library might have a Truvian dictionary. He promised to check, and hurried out, almost forgetting his tip.
She had two nights in isolation in this room. Plenty of time to rest, and see if she could parse out the papers Antonio had hidden in his suitcase, and search the trunk better.
If she found no new clues to follow, she'd check out the hotel named on the trunk's label, and then follow the diplomats to Tiva.
As she drifted off to sleep, she remembered that she had forgotten to send Lister a note saying that Antonio was dead, but she was all right. Well, that could wait until she docked. After all, if Mr. X was right, no one would know that murder had been done at all. No one would be worried.
Stay Tuned For Episode 12 - "MacGreevey Digs Deeper"
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