Irene leaned forward. ‘Are you saying, Inspector, that this “unknown quantity” is linked to last night’s events at the Liechtenstein Embassy?’
‘You would be quite correct, Miss Winters,’ Inspector Singh said. He rearranged his lips in a thin distrustful smile. ‘Now from what Mr Vale here has told me, I’m inclined to wonder if this woman is linked to the person you know as “Alberich”. Given that one of the aims of last night’s little exposition, alligators and all, was to search Lord Silver’s rooms while he was otherwise occupied.’
‘For a book,’ Vale interjected.
‘Indeed,’ Inspector Singh agreed. ‘That’s what our questioning confirmed. For a very specific book. The same book that was stolen from Lord Wyndham recently by a certain thief. Or should I say, believed to have been stolen?’ He shot a glance at Bradamant. His face was inexpressive enough, but his eyes were very dark and very angry.
Bradamant seemed to crumple in on herself. If she had had a handkerchief, no doubt she would have held it to her eyes and sniffled bravely. As it was, her lower lip quavered and her eyes were wide and limpid. ‘If Irene has told you about the Library,’ she said, ‘then there’s nothing more that I can say. I admit that I took,’ Irene admired her careful avoidance of the word stolen, ‘some books in order to make the Grimm’s disappearance look unimportant. But I certainly didn’t kill Lord Wyndham. Why would I have wanted to? I didn’t even know the man.’
Irene raised her hand to get Vale and Singh’s attention. ‘Would you mind if I ask Bradamant a couple of questions, gentlemen? To fill in a part of the story on my side.’
‘Certainly, Miss Winters,’ Vale said. Singh gave her a brief nod.
Irene turned back to Bradamant. ‘I saw a card in Wyndham’s safe. It was embossed with a gold mask and signed with the name Belphegor. Was that you?’
Bradamant sighed. ‘Yes. It was. I had the plans of the house from a local contact—’
‘This Dominic Aubrey person?’ Vale cut in.
Bradamant glanced to Irene, with an I see you’ve been giving away all our local secrets look, then nodded. ‘He and Wyndham had been acquaintances for a while. I think Aubrey may have actually been rather indiscreet in what he told Wyndham, but that’s a different problem.’ Just as you’ve been with Vale, was the unspoken message. ‘Anyhow, I came in by the roof while Wyndham was at his party downstairs. It was comparatively easy to deactivate the alarms on the display case where he kept the book – ’
‘Oh, was it now,’ Singh muttered.
– ‘and after I’d taken the book, I left the card in the case before leaving, by the roof again. I don’t know why it should have been in the safe.’ She shrugged.
‘What time was this?’ Singh asked.
‘About half past eleven,’ Bradamant answered. ‘The party was in full swing downstairs. I didn’t expect anyone to come up to Wyndham’s study at that point.’
Singh nodded. He turned to Irene. ‘According to our forensic specialists, Lord Wyndham was slaughtered somewhere between midnight and one o’clock. It is difficult to tell with vampires, but the fact that his head was found on the palings outside at one o’clock gives us some idea of the time frame.’
Irene wasn’t sure whether or not that was supposed to be a joke. ‘I see,’ she said neutrally. ‘So in that case, who put the card in the safe? Lord Wyndham himself?’
‘It seems the most likely hypothesis,’ Vale agreed. ‘The man – I apologize, the vampire – was beheaded in his study, at his desk. Some of the other guests at the party said that he went upstairs at midnight, saying that he was going to arrange a surprise.’
Kai nodded. ‘So when he walked in to find the book gone, he determined to preserve Belphegor’s card for future investigation. Though it seems overly careful to put it in the safe rather than simply leave it in a drawer of his desk. But then he was attacked?’
‘That is so,’ Singh said. ‘By members of the Iron Brotherhood. I have information from some of our agents. We believe they must have been masquerading as guests. They simply lopped his head off, walked out normally, and impaled it upon the palings as they left.’
Irene frowned. ‘But then Wyndham’s murder was before the Opera explosion and change in command in the Brotherhood. Is there a connection?’
Singh and Bradamant traded glances. ‘That is a very interesting question, Miss Winters,’ Singh said. ‘But at the moment, I am more interested in knowing the whereabouts of the book which Madame Bradamant stole.’
Bradamant regarded him stonily. ‘It was a fake.’
For a moment everyone was talking, mostly along the lines of What? and Are you certain?
‘And I know it was a fake,’ Bradamant said, cutting through the noise, ‘because when I took it back to my superior, he looked at it and then explained to me that he was not interested in facsimiles. Especially those which were missing certain relevant parts.’
‘Which relevant parts?’ Irene demanded. She was fairly sure who the superior in question must have been. Bradamant answered directly to Kostchei, just as Irene answered directly to Coppelia. The possibility of someone else having been involved, and giving Bradamant orders . . . well, it wasn’t impossible, but it was too unlikely. At the moment the principles of Occam’s Razor, starting with the most obvious answer, seemed the best plan. ‘Did he tell you?’