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Happy Families

chapter 7.

His uncle had promised him that service in the British Army would equip him for any situation life could throw at him. It seemed he was right; Roy had never dealt with the discovery of the corpse of an obvious murder victim before, but his army training came to the fore nonetheless. He found himself feeling curiously distant as he mechanically performed the sensible things, noting the temperature of the body and the time.

"9:22" he said out loud.

"Should—should you check for a pulse?"

Roy glanced towards Edward, still sitting against the door frame, pale and shaken. There wasn't much that could be done for Dante right now, but the boy needed attention. "No need," he said, coming over to Edward's side.

"Oh. Of course." Edward took the hand Roy offered and allowed himself to be pulled unsteadily to his feet. This begged the question of what to do with him—obviously, the boy couldn't remain here.

"Let's get some air," Roy said, guiding him back to the main room, shutting the door firmly behind them. Roy guided him towards a stool beside the desk in the corner. "You can sit here, and I'll open a window."

Edward sat obediently. He was still pale, somewhat unsteady in his movements. Roy had thought to send him to alert the others, but it seemed that he would not get that far.

"Shouldn't we tell someone?" Edward asked. He was breathing a little more easily now, bearing up like a proper trooper.

"I'll take care of that," Roy decided, leaving the window he'd just opened. "Do you think you can remain here and make sure the room is undisturbed? I'll be back as soon as I can."

Edward nodded. "I can do that, Colonel."

"Good lad." Roy patted his shoulder. "I won't be long."

He hesitated outside Holmenheim's door. As Master of the House, the professor was the obvious choice, but Roy flinched at interrupting his drinking to tell him a former lover had been brutally killed in his own laboratory. It was with utmost relief that he saw Mrs. Curtis and Envy making their way down the corridor.

"Mr. Envy," Roy said. "Ask Hughes and Marcoh to join me in the laboratory, will you?"

Envy paused mid-greeting. "The laboratory? But that's kept locked—"

"It's open now," Roy said, rather brusquely. "Hurry, please, it's a matter of some importance."

The look Envy gave him was startled and perhaps a bit resentful; Envy was not one to meekly take orders. However, the authority in Roy's tone won out and he nodded, hurrying back down the corridor.

Mrs. Curtis had obviously picked up on Roy's tone because she waited until Envy was out of earshot to ask "What's the matter, Colonel?"

"Edward and I found Lady Dante," Roy said. "Dead. Phone the police. Get them to send a team round—she's been murdered."

"Murdered?" Mrs Curtis repeated. "Are you sure?"

She didn't seemed shocked or even skeptical. Her manner was more of someone ascertaining the facts so that appropriate action could be taken. "Very sure."

"How's Edward?"

"As well as could be expected."

"Send him to the kitchen. I'll make the call and put the kettle on." She looked closely at Roy. "Are you sure you don't need something—"

"I rather fancy something with more bite than tea," Roy admitted. "But I'm fine. I've seen worse."

"I imagine you have." Mrs Curtis nodded to him absently, making her way down the passage.

It was funny the way people reacted differently in times of stress, Roy reflected. Edward looked nauseous, Mrs Curtis as though this were just another household emergency, on a level perhaps as the wrong cut of meat being delivered. Roy suspected that he himself was taking it far too coolly, but after seeing men under his command killed in action . . . well, the unexpectedness of Dante's death had startled him, but he couldn't really say it shocked him. At any rate, Hughes and Marcoh should be on their way shortly, and they could decide the best course of action.

And Mrs Curtis had made a very good point; Edward could use a cup of tea. Roy swung the laboratory door open. "Edward?"

The boy straightened hastily, still pale, one hand slipping into a pocket. He had not yet recovered from their discovery, his movements clearly nervous. Roy couldn't blame him.

"I was feeling better," the boy said, voice quick and somewhat unsteady. "So I thought I should have a look around, see if there was anything useful about. You know, like clues."

"Good thinking," Roy said, joining him at the side of the desk. "Did you find anything?"

Edward stared at him a moment, then shook his head. "No," he said. "Nothing."

Roy patted his shoulder. "It was a good thought," he told him kindly. "Your housekeeper instructed me to send you to the kitchen. I think she has a cup of tea with your name on it." The boy smiled faintly and Roy let go of his shoulder. "You'll be all right on your own?"

Edward nodded. He was still pale, but his voice was firmer. "I'm not a baby."

"Didn't think you were." Roy watched Edward make his way to the door. "Edward? One more thing. It's not a good idea to say much about this at present."

The boy looked back then, from the expression in his eyes understanding not just that, but the implications behing it. Too knowing for his own good. "I see." He slipped into the corridor without any further words.

It was with relief that Roy heard Marcoh and Hughes coming down the corridor a few minutes later.

"What's all this about then?" Hughes asked breezing airily into the room. "I didn't fancy you as the scientific type, old bean."

It may have been wrong, but it was somehow immensely satisfying to know something that Hughes didn't. "Something's come up that I thought you should know about."

"Oh?" Hughes lent against one of the desks while Marcoh tutted about the condition of the lab. "A new development?"

"You could say that. A corpse."


The village police quickly arrived and were hard at work in the laboratory. This gave Roy and Hughes the chance to take a much needed cigarette in the garden. Marcoh was still with Holmenheim, having gone to break the news to the rest of the household.

"You can stop smirking, you know." Hughes said. He'd been sulking sometime. "I can't be expected to know everything."

"You don't say."

"Confound it, Roy. I never claimed to be omniscient."

Roy shook the ash from his cigarette. He couldn't shake the faint sense of deja-vu, the sharp smell of the tobacco, the way their words felt false and hollow yet at the same time, beguilingly normal. The quality of the cigarette had improved since his army days, but the rest of it, sharing a smoke with a fellow soldier, resorting to dark humour and petty squabbles to keep from thinking about the dead body not 50 yards away. And he'd thought those days had ended with the war . . . "Really."

Hughes eyed him with sourly. "You aren't funny."

"Gentlemen," a polite yet business-like voice greeted them. Roy turned to see a sensible looking man in the uniform of a police-inspector salute them. "I'm Inspector Farman. I was wondering if I could have a

minute?"

"Of course," Hughes stubbed out his smoke and Roy followed suit. "How can we be of service?"

"Mrs. Curtis has informed me that you're friends of Doctor Marcoh's, and that it was—-" He paused to

consult a notebook—-" Colonel Mustang who discovered the body and raised the alert?"

Roy nodded. "That's correct."

"We'll want to interview you, of course, Colonel. We'll also need a statement from you Brigadier—-" the

officer did a double-take. "Not the Brigadier Hughes?"

"You've heard of me?" Hughes preened. Roy rolled his eyes—Hughes couldn't even do fake-modest properly.

"Have I heard of you? But of course! What you've done is amazing—but what are you doing here? Surely, a quiet country town like Little River is no place for—-"

Hughes unfolded a letter from his jacket pocket and handed it to the officer. Farman glanced at it

quickly, then straightened, reading it again. Roy tried to get a look at it, but before he could, the

officer whistled, folding up the paper and giving it solemnly back to Hughes. "I see. Well, if there's

anything we can do to help?"

"Continue your investigations as normal, my man," Hughes was once again in charge of the situation, breezily giving orders. "Roy and I would like to sit in on the interviews—you haven't begun questioning the household yet?"

"Not yet. I was going to start with the Colonel."

"Ready when you are," Roy said.

Farman nodded. "The professor has been good enough to grant us his study for the interviews. If you'd mind waiting in the drawing room with the rest of the household until we've finished with the crime scene?"

"Actually, if you don't mind, I'd like to go over the scene with you," Hughes said. "Roy, you coming?"

"I'll pass," Roy said, with a slight grimace. "I saw quite enough of the crime scene earlier."

Hughes patted his arm. "Later, old man."

"Later."

Roy made his way towards the drawing room slowly—he was in no hurry to encounter any of the others. What Roy needed was a couple of hours solitude to reflect on it and a stiff drink.

Solitude was what Roy wanted; it was not what he got. He'd barely set a foot inside the house before he was hailed.

"Colonel! I must know!" Envy blocked his path. Roy had a moment of shock before he recognised him—for the first time in their acquaintance, the secretary did not look calm or collected—or even superior. If he looked anything right now, it was panicked. "They won't let me in there—there has to be some mistake!"

In all the fuss of finding the body and the police, it hadn't really sunk in that Dante was dead—or even how her death would effect those closest to her—until now. Faced with perhaps the only person who could honestly mourn her, Roy found it hard to remain dispassionate. "The police have to do their job."

"No—it can't be true, it can't! She's not dead—" Envy took a step back. "She can't be," he insisted, looking at the hallway panelling as if it could tell him otherwise. "I don't believe it—"

There was nothing Roy could do or say; he hardly knew the young man, to intrude on his grief was too much. It was with relief then that he heard Holmenheim clear his throat behind them.

"Envy—" Holmenheim's voice was also thick with emotion, although rather than sounding grief-stricken or desperate, he just sounded . . . old. He stepped forward to place his hands on Envy's shoulders. "I'm so sorry."

That was it. Envy crumbled, falling into his father's waiting embrace.

Roy made his way for the stairs as quietly as he could. His presence amongst such grief wasn't necessary. A sudden movement caught his eye and he caught a glimpse of Edward turning away from the bannister. Mere seconds later he'd disappeared down the West Wing corridor but the glimpse was enough that Roy had stopped in his tracks, arrested by the boy's expression. Baleful, almost dark—

The morning's getting to me, Roy decided, making his way to his room. Soon, I'll be finding sinister implications in everything.


Lucky he'd decided to pack his black tie after all. Roy straightened it, eyeing himself in the mirror as he adjusted his jacket and braced himself for joining the rest of the household in the drawing room. Death, death he could manage. Hysteria on the other hand . . . He was not looking forward to the reactions of the rest of the household.

Once again, Roy was surprised. He was hailed almost immediately he opened the drawing room door.

"Colonel! Is it really true?" The words were almost exactly what his half brother's had been, but Alphonse's obvious excitement could not have been more of a contrast. "The police are here for the murder?"

"I'm afraid so."

Alphonse's grin was wide. "A real murder—right here! Smashing!"

Smashing was hardly Roy's choice of adjective. "A murder isn't usually celebrated," he said, glancing around the drawing room, and taking a seat on the sofa. Edward was curled morosely on the window seat, Marcoh frowning anxiously in Alphonse's direction from the seat nearest the gramaphone, and Tucker fidgeted frantically in the background.

"Do you think the police will let me help?" Alphonse continued, climbing onto the sofa beside Roy undaunted. "Are they going to interview us for clues? Do you think they'll make an arrest today?"

"Alphonse," Marcoh cautioned gently. "Don't pester Roy with questions—and try to be a little more respectful. Lady Dante is dead, you know."

"I know." This fact did not seem to deter the boy's cheerfulness any. "It's not fair. I wanted to go into the laboratory but they wouldn't let me." He added with a touch of resentment, "Ed gets all the fun."

Edward eyed his brother darkly from the window seat. "Al, you ninny. Shut up."

"Why should I? Everything always happens to you. I never get to do anything exciting—"

"I don't think that finding Dante's body could really be termed exciting, Alphonse," Roy said as firmly as he could. "In fact, it's excitement I could have done without."

"Really?" The thought of Dante's death as anything but an opportunity for him to play detective had evidently not occurred to Alphonse. "But—"

"But nothing, Al. She's dead." Edward had uncurled from the window seat and made his way over to the sofa. "You're not supposed to speak ill of the dead," he said, letting his hand rest on Alphonse's shoulder.

Alphonse looked up at his brother, plainly confused. "Why would you care? You hated her too."

"Alphonse! Really! Such uncharitable language—I know that Lady Dante was not an easy person to live with, but I had hoped that you'd been brought up better than to use such vulgar expressions—"

"Sorry, Doctor." Edward's smile was thin. "But it's true. We didn't like her . . . all the same, Al." Edward lent towards his brother and if Roy hadn't been so close he would have missed the whispered words. "She was his mother."

Of all their admonitions, that was the one that finally seemed to sink in. Alphonse looked at the arm of the sofa, contemplating a loss he could clearly understand. Just in time too—the door opened and Holmenheim ushered Envy into the drawing room. The young man's eyes were rimmed with red, but he appeared composed, if withdrawn and listless. He nodded to everyone, and took the window seat Edward had vacated.

Marcoh made polite conversation, trying to act as though everything were normal. Roy and Holmenheim took him up on that, but it was awkward, forced, and Roy had the impression they were fooling no one. He glanced at Tucker still fussing in the background—really, the man made him so impatient! The boys's tutor, and yet he was the only one present who hadn't tried to remonstrate with Alphonse, and even now he wasn't doing anything to reassure the children or improve the situation. The man was as effective a child-minder as a damp dish cloth.

There was a knock at the door. "Pardon the intrusion, gentlemen," Inspector Farman said with a bow. "We're ready to start the interviews. Colonel, would you mind accompanying me to the study? And Doctor Marcoh, I hope you won't mind if we asked you to act in place of a police surgeon?"

"Of course not." Marcoh accompanied Farman and Roy to the door.

As they walked down the corridor, Roy asked "How long has Tucker been tutor here?"

"Tucker? Oh, a good five or so years I think—yes, it would be five now."

"That long?"

"I admit that he isn't perhaps, the most charismatic of men, or even a very firm disciplinarian," Marcoh agreed. "But he has very impressive credentials, and I believe he was related to Trisha. A cousin, I think."

"In here, if you don't mind, Colonel. Doctor, if I could ask you to proceed to the laboratory, my deputy is waiting. Very good."

Hughes had proceeded to make himself at home in Holmenheim's leather upholstered chair. "Roy, how good of you to join us."

"Come off it. You're not going to be like that this whole time, are you?"

Hughes shrugged. "No, I'll just be observing. Inspector Farman here will handle the interviews."

Farman nodded to Roy, indicated a comfortable armchair. "If you'll be so good?"

"It's been a while since I've been interviewed by the police," Roy observed, as Hughes surrendered the desk and chair to Farman. "I must say, this is much more pleasant than my last such experience."

"Oh?" Farman asked politely, getting his notebook out. "I can't imagine that police station furniture would be on a level with the Professor's chairs."

"Quite," Hughes leaned against a bookcase with a smirk. "Roy was behind bars at the time."

Roy scowled at his friend. "Do you always have to bring that up?"

"Farman would find out anyway. It's on your files, old man. Attempted murder and all—"

"But it wasn't attempted murder—"

"Quite. You were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. I know, remember? I got you off."

"This would be the Bradley affair. I remember reading about it—an amazing piece of deduction, if I may say so Brigadier Hughes. Truly outstanding. Indeed, I had all but forgotten about the Colonel's involvement in that case."

"Most people have," Roy said, giving Hughes a pointed look. That was one incident that he was keen to live down.

Farman at least got the hint. "Very well. Now, if you could give us, in your own words, a brief summary of the events of the morning, particularly those that led up to your discovery of Lady Dante's body?"

It was strange feeling, going over the events of just a few hours ago from an entirely different perspective. Had anything seemed out of place at all? Roy had felt no premonitions that anything untoward had occurred. True, there was tension but he'd attributed that to the argument that Holmenheim and Edward had the previous night. Was civilian life getting to him?

"That's all," Roy finished, spreading his hands helplessly. "I'm sorry I can't be of more help."

"Not at all, Colonel. I'm sure the information you've given us will prove most useful, and we are indebted to you for your actions upon discovering the crime. Calm and reason are traits not usually encountered by the police—and we are especially grateful that the crime scene was preserved intact."

"Almost entirely intact," Hughes corrected. "Did you happen to pick up anything from the room, Roy? I imagine it would be a flat, fairly thin object with a straight edge."

"An object?"

"That's as specific as we can be."

Roy shook his head. "The only thing I did was to take a jacket to place over her."

"And no one entered the room between your discovery and our arrival?"

"No. Well, Edward was there."

"Ah, yes, the boy. 15 years old, is he not?" Farman made a note. "It is possible that the murderer took the object with him."

"Something's missing then?"

"It may have no bearing on the matter at all—"

"Come now, Inspector. It was deliberately removed from a room where a murder was committed—I should say that it has bearing on the matter." Hughes straightened as there was a knock at the door. "That must be Marcoh."

"If there was any doubt in your mind about Dante's death being murder, gentlemen," Marcoh greeted them, "then I can assure you that this can be nothing but homicide."

Roy couldn't say that he was at all surprised.

"Cause of death?"

"Let me sit down first, will you?" Marcoh made himself comfortable on the sofa in the corner. "My examination was fairly straightforward. I can't imagine that there is much I can tell you gentlemen that you haven't already worked out for yourselves."

"For the record?"

"Death occurred as the result of repeated blows to the head with a blunt instrument, and was, if not instantaneous, pretty close. It is unlikely that the subject ever had the chance to defend herself. The attack came from behind, at close quarters."

"The weapon?"

"There was a microscope lying on the ground beside her with . . . residue traces that indicate it was the object used. It has been removed for fingerprinting."

"Excellent," Farman made a note. "Any idea of the time of death?"

"This is only a rough estimate you understand. It will need to be confirmed by a police surgeon of course, but I'd say death occurred four to six hours previous to her discovery, which fits in with what I know of Dante—the subject's—habits."

"She was an early riser then?"

"Yes, she preferred to rise and take a short walk around the gardens before joining everyone for breakfast."

As Farman jotted this down, Hughes leaned forward. "How long had you known Dante?"

"Well, I first met her four years ago, when Mr. Envy became Holmenheim's secretary. Dante moved to Little River soon after and she was a frequent visitor at the house—at least, that was the impression I gathered during my visits."

Farman asked Marcoh a few more questions about his knowledge of the Elric household affairs, giving Roy time to think. Struck from behind . . . he hadn't liked Dante, but even so, that was a pretty damn poor way to be killed.

"Well, I can't say that she had any enemies that I knew of, although I admit that her presence in this house was often the cause of tension . . . even so, that someone here would kill her!" Marcoh shook his head. "I'm afraid that I have no idea who the murderer might be."

"Thank you, Doctor, your assistance has been most valuable." Farman glanced at his notebook. "Who is in your opinion most likely to have seen Lady Dante this morning?"

"Well, the maid, Lila, usually waited on Dante. I imagine she would be the best person to ask. Of course, Mr Envy and his mother were very close. It is possible he may have seen her this morning."

"He's not taking this well," Roy added. "It might be difficult to get anything useful out of him."

"I see." Farman looked to Hughes. "Might be as well to send for Miss White then?"

"And then Edward I think.."

"Is that necessary?" Roy protested. "The boy's had a big shock. Besides, it's unlikely he could tell you anything that I haven't already told you."

"There's always the chance that he noticed something you overlooked," Hughes pointed out.

"I'm not convinced—"

"Edward's a lot more capable than you realise, old man," Hughes said. "You're doing him a disservice if you think he needs to be protected." He nodded to Farman. "We'll have Lila first, then Edward."

Farman looked from Hughes to Marcoh and Roy and shrugged. "I suppose it is better to be thorough about this. Marcoh, would you send for Miss White now and the boy know that I'll want to interview him next."

Marcoh nodded, heading for the door. "I'll inform them at once."

Roy watched him go, debating whether or not he should follow. It felt very unsporting to just spring an interview on the child—

"You're an admirable solider, Roy." Hughes spoke softly, leaning over the back of his chair. "But Edward is not one of your men."

Roy gave his friend a hard look. "What are you implying?"

"That you're a better commander than a detective. I'm not trying to insult you, old man. Merely making an observation." Hughes let his hand rest on Roy's shoulder. "You have a strong instinct to protect people, Roy. It does you credit, but you can't afford to take sides in a criminal investigation."

He'd deal with the suggestion of partisanship later. Now, Roy was more concerned about the implications of Hughes's words. "Surely you don't think that Edward—" He was careful to keep his voice low.

"I'm not saying anything just yet. But consider this." Hughes also spoke softly, keeping their conversation from Farman's hearing. "If he has nothing to hide, then he has no need of your protection—and if you believe he has no need of protection then why are you trying to make excuses for him?"

"Steady on," Roy protested.

"Quiet, old boy. Your piece of fluff is here."

Roy glared at Hughes, but didn't have time to properly give him a piece of his mind before Lila entered.

Lila was politely downcast, but neat as ever. She blushed demurely as Roy pulled the chair out for her, but did not seem overly upset by the sudden turn of events. Her eyes glittered as she sized up her audience, and Roy suspected that she was enjoying this.

"This must be very distressing for you," Farman said. He was straightening his tie self consciously. Hughes was smirking. Roy ignored him.

"Oh, indeed. I don't know what to do with myself at all—" Lila complained prettily.

Having ascertaining that Lila was comfortable and not perturbed by the police presence, Farman began the interview. Roy paid only scant attention as she explained her role as Dante's maid, and her history of employment—he'd heard all this before. Instead, he studied her reactions to the questions. Her answers were prompt and clear, although delivered in a manner intended to make a favourable impression on her audience. Roy recognised the technique for what it was—he'd used similar strategies himself. Hughes had complimented him as a commander, but Roy wasn't sure that manipulator wasn't the better term. Of course, he liked to think he was more subtle than Lila . . . and that he showed more discretion in choosing his targets. Farman seemed a nice enough man, but really—that tie with that shirt?

"Well, I can't say that I knew of anyone with a particular motive for killing my mistress," Lila said, managing to put stress on 'particular.' "But I wouldn't say she was a much liked woman either."

"Care to elaborate on that?" Hughes asked.

Lila demurred. "I'd rather not. It seems so disrespectful, seeing that she is dead and all—"

Roy approved. It was a clever move. By appearing hesitant, she displayed expected feminine sensibility and decorum, clearing the way for herself to tear into Dante without any remorse—all she lacked was an invitation.

Polite gentleman that he was, Roy gave it to her. "In cases such as these frankness is of the utmost importance," he assured Lila. "Your long years of service with Dante will have given you a unique appreciation for her qualites—good and otherwise. For the purposes of this investigation, we need to know everything—no matter how unflattering—that may have a bearing on her death."

"Well, if that's the case . . . I don't like to bring up such matters, but—"

Roy sincerely hoped that Lila would never be called upon to give an opinion of him after his death. Some of this vitriol had to have been building up for years! At least, one had to admit that she was equal opportunity in her abuse—not only did Dante and her son come in for sound criticism, but Holmenheim and his staff were treated equally. Roy had not cared to know so much about Holmenheim's fondness for strong spirits (which in Lila's opinion bordered on dependence), Shezchka's slovenly appearance and preoccupation with books and science ('distinctly unfeminine if you get my meaning'), or Tucker's erratic behavior and nervous fits ('one doesn't like to speculate but he does keep very odd hours . . . and it's no secret that he hadn't been able to hold down a steady job before this one').

"I think that covers everyone in the household," Hughes noted idly as Lila finished a vicious attack on Mrs Curtis highly suspicious 'sickness'. "With the exception of the boys."

"Well, you can't say that Dante was overly fond of them, or they of her. I fancy she saw herself as the rightful mistress of this place, and Mr. Envy as its rightful heir. Edward and Alphonse were in her way." Lila shrugged. "You can't really blame them for resenting her. She was never an easy woman to please, and she didn't even try to be considerate of them."

"Would you say their father was aware of this?"

"Not him. I'm surprised he even remembers they're present half the time."

Hughes leaned forward. "Why would you suppose Holmenheim put up with her then?"

This was something Lila had evidently pondered herself. "The only possibility that I've come up with is that he endured her for Envy's sake."

"Envy?"

"She was his mother and they were close. Also, she could make life very difficult for him if she chose." Lila nodded. "I think Holmenheim was prepared to put up with any amount of Dante's vindictiveness, if it meant that Mr. Envy could live here. After all, it's not as if he keeps him around for his skill as a secretary."

"I see." Farman evidently felt they were getting off track. "Now, could you tell us about the events of this morning?"

"I rose at 6:00 am, as is my usual custom, to assist Mrs. Curtis with breakfast. At 7, I brought Lady Dante her tray."

"Did she normally rise so early?"

"Yes, she did. Usually, she sends me away and eats in bed but this morning she had me dress her and told me she wished to breakfast downstairs." There was faint resentment in Lila's tone. "We had to set the dining room just for her."

"I understand she was making a journey?"

"Yes, she was heading to London. She sent me upstairs to pack her things immediately after I served breakfast and I was busy with her trunk after that."

"Was there anyone else up at that time?"

For the first time during the entire interview there was a short pause before Lila answered. "No. No one at all."

"No one?" Hughes said sharply.

Lila shook her head. "Not apart from myself and Mrs. Curtis. Mr. Curtis and Ross had breakfast with us in the kitchen, but they went outside immediately afterwards to ready the car."

"I see." Farman put his pen down. "Thank you very kindly, Miss White. I hope this wasn't too arduous for you."

"One last question if I may?" Hughes interposed himself quickly. "Miss White, I know this is an unusual question but what is your opinion of Edward's condition?"

"His condition?" Lila blinked, obviously not expecting this. "Well, it's very sad of course. I mean, for the family."

"You have no other comments?"

"Well, naturally, the family wishes to be as discreet about it as possible," Lila said, carefully. "We are allowed to know very little." She paused, then continued softly. "I will say that it strikes me as very convenient."

"Convenient?" Roy questioned. "For who?"

Lila shook her head. "I really couldn't say. Edward's a nice boy, and I wish him all the best but all the same . . . it happens, from time to time. Even in the best families, and well . . . a prolonged illness seems infinitely preferable in comparison." She smiled brightly at them. "If that's all, gentlemen?"

"Infinitely preferable to what exactly?" Roy whispered to Hughes as Farman accompanied Lila to the door.

Hughes shook his head. "For someone with so much to say, she provided very little in terms of facts," he said softly. "She's willing to talk about anything . . . except for what she knows."

So Hughes had seen that as well? Roy smirked. "That reminds me of someone . . . very fond of their own voice, but never says anything useful . . . who could it possibly be?"

"Come off it." Hughes caught him in the ribs. "Seriously, Roy, why do you think she lied?"

"It's certainly not to protect someone. Plain to see that there is no love lost between Miss White and her employers."

"No," Hughes agreed. "Which suggests to me that Miss White has a rather more mercenary motive at heart."

"Bribery?"

"Or blackmail. You'll have to watch her, Roy."