‘Two things,’ Vale said. ‘Firstly, the timing. It took place the very night after the airships arrived in convoy from Liechtenstein. I do not think that I need to remind you about that.’ He looked up from his contemplation of his fingers. ‘And secondly . . .’ He hesitated again before continuing. ‘My family was involved with a certain society, and they believe it was connected with the loss of their book. The same group met beneath the Opera.’
‘You’re being very careful not to name that society, Mr Vale,’ Irene commented.
‘Indeed I am,’ Vale said.
‘Are they connected to the Fair Folk?’ she probed.
Vale laughed, a surprised bark of a laugh. ‘My dear Miss Winters! Show me a society that isn’t connected to the Fair Folk. I suppose you could say no more than most of them.’
‘And its connection to Liechtenstein?’ she continued.
‘Ah. Now here we come to the nub of the problem.’ Vale frowned. ‘I should probably have offered you tea. I do apologize. I always forget that sort of thing. But in any case, from what I’ve heard, the Liechtenstein Fair Folk are very definitely not affiliated with – well, let us call them the Society. So the Ambassador’s arrival, just before the Society was targeted in this way, is notable for its timing.’
‘You think he caused the explosion?’ Kai asked. ‘Or the Society? Or were they the targets of the explosion?’
‘Possible.’ Vale waved a hand. ‘Possible. Certainly it is worthy of further investigation. And now, Miss Winters, Mr Strongrock, since I have done my part and told you why I am involved in all of this, I ask you to do the same.’ He leaned forward in his chair, his eyes hooded, and Irene wondered how much of what he’d said had been a carefully constructed bluff. Trust me. I’ve told you everything. Really I have. Now it’s your turn. ‘If we are to progress, then there must be some trust on both sides.’
Irene held up her good hand before Kai could speak. ‘Before that, Mr Vale, I’d like the answer to one more question.’
‘Within reason, I am at your disposal,’ Vale said.
‘Why do you feel that you can trust us?’ she asked. Certainly she’d like to cooperate with him. It would make matters much easier; it might even make success in this mission possible, as opposed to out of the question. But it might also be a trap.
He might even be Alberich. How could she tell? The very thought made her swallow, and made her bandaged hand throb and twinge again.
‘That is a fair question,’ Vale allowed. ‘I will be honest with you. I do have a few gifts from my family heritage. One of them is – well, not exactly prognostication, but an ability to tell when something is going to be important in my future. I have used it to advantage in a number of my cases, though I do not discuss it with the public. When I met Mr Strongrock the other day, I knew, in a way which I fear I cannot describe to you, that he was going to be closely involved with me in the near future. I had the same sensation upon meeting you, Miss Winters. On assessment of your characters, I choose to assume that you will be my allies rather than my enemies. I hope that you will not disappoint me.’
Irene glanced at Kai for a moment. He shrugged neutrally. But it wasn’t as if it was his decision, in any case; this wasn’t a democracy and he wasn’t an equal partner. The decision, the risks and the potential for disaster were all hers.
Vale’s story hung together and made sense, which was more than one could usually expect of events. More than that, Irene had the feeling that she could trust him. She wanted to trust him. (Should that in itself make her suspicious?) And there was nothing that said they had to tell him everything. And this was only a single mission, after all. They could leave this entire alternate behind them, and he’d have no way to follow them. There wouldn’t be any repercussions afterwards. And, well – if he had been Alberich, then they’d already be dead. Just like Dominic Aubrey.
She made her decision, and leaned forward to offer her good hand. ‘Mr Vale, I am grateful for what you have said. I believe we can cooperate.’
Vale smiled briefly, and clasped her hand. ‘Thank you. Then perhaps you can tell me about yourselves?’
Irene glanced at Kai. ‘You have already made it clear that you believe we’re not English.’
‘Indeed not,’ Vale said crisply. ‘Nor are you Canadians.’
‘Ah,’ Irene said, and quickly rephrased her next statement. ‘We are representatives of – a Society. You will understand if we don’t name it, I hope.’
Vale’s smile was a little bitter. ‘If you can vouch for its good intentions, that will be sufficient.’
‘I can vouch for its non-interference,’ Irene said scrupulously. ‘We’re after one thing: the book that was stolen from Lord Wyndham’s house. We arrived here with the intention of purchasing it,’ well, that would have been one option, ‘only to find the man, ah, vampire, murdered, and the book stolen. Now we want to recover it. If together we can discover the truth behind the book thefts, the murder, and the explosion, well, that would surely be the best of all possible ends.’ And, she thought privately, the Library might be interested in those other books as well. Except for the one from Vale’s family. That one they could afford to give back, and he’d appreciate it.
‘And your enemy?’ Vale gestured at Irene’s bandaged hand.
‘We only have his name,’ Irene said. It was probably safe enough to give that. ‘Alberich.’