It was locked.
She flicked a quick glance behind her. Although this back alley was far more active than the wide front street, nobody was currently in view – or, more importantly, within earshot – of her. She put her lips next to the lock and commanded in the Language, ‘Servants’ entry door lock, sealed and closed, now open!’
The tumblers of the lock shivered and clicked open with gratifying vigour. The door shuddered and the latch came undone, letting the door swing open into a dark passage.
Irene walked through the servants’ corridors into the main part of the house. The marks of the police search were obvious: drawers still hung open, there were piles of discarded linen and clothing everywhere and dirty boot-marks on the luxurious crimson carpets. The place hadn’t been tidied either, after the ‘rude interruption’ to the dinner party. Dirty plates and glasses were piled in stacks or left lying on polished tables, and ashtrays were full to overflowing with discarded cigar and cigarette ends.
Despite searching with a certain horrified curiosity, she couldn’t find any secret torture chambers or rooms containing strange vampiric devices. She did find that the books displayed prominently in every chamber had been dusted, but the spines were pristine and un-creased. They had the sad, untouched air of literature paraded for display purposes but never actually used.
It was profoundly depressing.
Wyndham’s study was a large room with far too much pseudo-Degas artwork on the walls; a whole dozen pictures of women in ballet skirts showing off their legs. Thick crimson curtains matched the thick crimson carpet and the dark wood panelling. Her footsteps were silent.
The heavy oak desk was bare of papers, and all the drawers were locked. She could open them later if she had to. A deep score mark marred the desk’s surface. Probably from the removal of Wyndham’s head. Bloodstains had soaked into the wood, spilling outwards from the line of the cut. She didn’t think they’d come out. The big chair behind the desk (ebony with black leather cushions – how vulgar) had been pushed over at some point. It had been repositioned, but had clearly been lying long enough to leave a dent in the plush carpet.
Blood had soaked into the carpet too, but it was barely visible, a slightly darker brown amid the rich thick crimson.
The glass display case in the corner could have held the Grimm book, Irene decided. For one thing, the case was sealed with all manner of complicated locks, catches and alarms. For another thing, it was now empty.
Irene turned thoughtfully, looking around the room. Wyndham was the sort of man who would have needed a safe, and where better to keep it than in his study. She would have bet money on it. Now she just had to try and find it.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest pseudo-Degas hid the safe. She swung the painting back and examined the heavy iron door. Combination lock. Well, she could always talk it open, but . . .
She heard quick approaching footsteps on the main stairs. It must be a man; a woman wouldn’t stride like that, not in these skirts. But there wasn’t supposed to be anyone in the house! Perhaps another burglar? What marvellous timing.
She quickly concealed the safe, and retreated behind one of the thick curtains. She needn’t fear discovery within its thick folds. Merely suffocation.
The door swung open with a heavy creak. Clearly the intruder wasn’t bothering with caution. She waited until she heard the sound of the painting swinging back before she carefully peered round the edge of the curtain.
The man had his back to her. He was of above average height, with well-squared shoulders and a slender waist. His pale hair, a shade somewhere between silver and lavender, was gathered back in a short tail that fell neatly against his perfectly fitted jacket. His trousers were just as well cut, moulded elegantly to his body. It was perfect formal visiting gear. If your host hadn’t been murdered. His top hat was tilted insouciantly to one side, and he was wearing pale grey kid gloves.
He reached out a hand to delicately brush the wheel-handle of the safe, then snatched his fingers back with an angry hiss. A thin scent of burning flesh hung in the air, even through his gloves.
Irene let the curtain fall back into place, and considered. Clearly there was more to Lord Wyndham’s alliance with the Fair Folk than met the eye, if he’d made sure that his safe was made of cold iron, so proof against Fae. This supported the newspaper’s whole ‘diabolical intrigue’ theory, and it rather fitted what she knew about the Fae. They liked complicated relationships. It didn’t matter if they were loved or hated, as long as the other person had strong feelings towards them. Strong enough, for instance, to install a completely Fae-proof safe. And if she’d been able to choose her options a few hours ago, being trapped in a dead vampire’s private study with an angry Fae would not have been one of them.
Then, more alarmingly, she heard him sniff. It wasn’t the phlegmatic nose-clearing of a cold, it was a hungry sniff, a tasting of the air.
‘Ohhhh.’ His voice hung on the air like incense. ‘Come out, come out, little mouse. Or shall I come looking for you?’
Irene took a deep breath, set her face to an expression of polite unconcern, and moved the curtain back. ‘The Liechtenstein Ambassador, I presume?’ she guessed.
His face was as pretty as his body had suggested, but his eyes were slitted like a cat’s and pure gold. ‘Why,’ he said, tone smooth as honey, ‘you are quite correct. But what sort of little mouse hides behind the curtains? Are you a blackmailer, little mouse? A spy? A detective? A little rat in the arras, just waiting to be stabbed?’