At least four things had gone wrong in the relatively short expanse of Molly Malteses morning. One, her daughter Annabelle had once again given her nurse the slip and was now not in lessons as a girl should be, but presumably venturing around the streets of New York like a rampant little urchin.
Two, she hadn't had a respectable case in a good long while, and her understatedly extravagant lifestyle would soon be getting mighty uncomfortable if the veritable drought of business didn't end soon. She was a private investigator in New York, for heavens sakes, one would think there was a murder on every street corner to be looked after.
Three, she hadn't had coffee this morning, and so she was very irate in general. And four, the police were currently handcuffing her hands behind her back.
"You're sure this is the one you saw?" the older of the pair asked the man standing on the sidewalk. He had a deep, rumbling voice and grey whiskers. The man on the sidewalk nodded vehemently, and the younger officer took this as a cue to yank Molly towards their van, throwing her off balance wildly.
"I've never seen this man before in my life!" she said in supremely haughty tones, drawing herself with effort up to her impressive height of 5"11. Her green eyes were hard peridot, casting a glare sharp enough to cut.
"Yeah, because by all accounts you were too busy murderin' that poor fool to notice!" the younger policeman barked in her ear, yanking her head back by her long curtain of vibrant copper hair. She gasped, and taking that as a sign of his victory, the officer sneered and threw her into the back of the car.
"I was home all evening, you bloody imbecile!" she barked, furious as tears welled up involuntarily in her eyes in direct reaction to having half her hair nearly pulled out.
"Tell it to the judge." was all she heard the policeman mutter before the door slammed shut with an authoratative bang. Molly swore colorfully, then took a deep breath.
The air was cold as the large ship set sail for London. It was going to be a long two days before the rag-tag group of misfit detectives would be in London searching for Molly's daughter and trying to find out who it was that was playing as Molly.
Marc stepped outside on the front deck and leaned upon the guard rail. Everything raced in through his mind. Sal and Vulkie had come up with nothing in particular. Everyone was somewhere on the ship. Molly was with Andrew down in the dining hall posing as husband and wife under assumed nicknames. Vulkie was somewhere on the ship doing her own thing and Sal was in his room sleeping.
Marc pulled out his pipe. After lighting it, he started to get lost in his thoughts as he usually did when he smoked his pipe. Sal came up from behind. "I thought you were sleeping," Marc said.
"Ahh, can't sleep," Sal replied. Marc turned and faced him. Sal had cleaned up and actually looked sharp. He was cleaned shaved and wore his newest suit. Unlike Marc, who preferred a double breasted coat, Sal wore a single breasted coat and with a deep, navy blue tie.
"You look sharp," Marc said with a smile as he puffed on his pipe. Sal smiled revealing the slight yellowish stain on his teeth from smoking too many cigarettes. Sal pulled out a cigarette and lit it, inhaling deeply.
As he exhaled, Molly came up from behind them accompanied by Andrew Corelli. "I have something useful," Molly said.
"What is it?" Marc asked.
"Not here. Too many eyes and ears. Down stairs in my-"
"No, we go down stairs in MY room," Marc said.
"We go in my room. You get what you need to show us, and we go into my room." Marc said.
"Nothing personal, Molly, but we have to guarantee your safety." Sal said.
"Okay. Where is Vulkie?" Marc asked.
"Okay, look, you guys go meet me in my room, and I'll find Vulkie and bring her in." Marc said.
They nodded and left.
Marc emptied out his pipe and and left back into the ship and split from the rest of the group. It didn't take long to find Vulkie who was sitting in the bar. She wasn't drinking her life away, but rather she seemed relaxed and sipping on French champagne. Marc pulled up a seat next to her.
"Let's go," he said. "Molly's got something we need to see."
"What is it?" Vulkie asked.
"Not sure. Let's go."
It took only minutes to get to Marc's room and everyone was there waiting.
The walk to Marc's room was a silent one, everyone was absent in their thoughts, in fact it was like a complete different group, Molly was a few steps ahead of Sal and Corelli, they looked like perfect strangers.
"Everything is ok?" Sal asked.
"Yes, it's just that I have been thinking..., take a look at this" Corelli handed Sal a rumpled newspaper that said something about the war, casualties in some far away front and a speech by the Prime Minister Churchill.
"We're going to a country at war"
"Yes, but I was thinking about another thing, this little editorial" and the smile disappeared, "apparently there have been some... unusual crimes, people claiming to see criminals, with solids alibis, in the crime scene, and the public opinion is quite angry..."
"Do you think that it has something to do with the double?"
"So that's the important thing that..."
"No, actually, Molly discovered..., well, we better talk in Mr. Lacrimosa's room, it's safer"
"This is the place" Molly said and everyone got into the room.
With a sly smile, Molly pulled out of her pocket a bundle wrapped carefully in a handkerchief.
"I found this stuck in my door." she announced, and yanked away the handkerchief with a flourish. In her hand winked a slim, deadly-sharp knife, of a familiar design. Corelli immediately leaped to his feet, as did Sal, with oaths of dismay and outrage, but Vulkie and Marc looked at the knife, comprehension dawning in their eyes at the same time.
"Gentlemen, I must ask you to calm yourselves. What you have percieved as a threat is actually a sign that we have an ally on board." Molly and Marc nodded as one. "Now as this room is crowded, I vote we head to a more open space to discuss our options. May I recommend the library on this deck?" Molly asked, and opening the door, led the way into a medium-sized but spacious library.
"Now, about my daughter. I feel like theres something fishy about this set-up. We haven't heard a peep out of anyone about a girl, and a small girl being held against her will would probably make a scene. I feel as if...dare I say it, perhaps we've been misled." Molly said, her eyes sad, and her face showing signs of age suddenly that none of them had noticed before.
And as if on cue, the lights were extinguished.
"Brilliant deduction, detective." a throaty voice came from somewhere in the darkness, and thats when the shooting started.
Gunfire ripped through the air as commands were issued in a gruff voice. “Kill them all, show no mercy!”
“Everyone get down!” Marc yelled. The sound of gunfire and wood being blown to bits echoed throughout the large room, coupled with the sound of footsteps rushing around in the darkness. The sound of heavy thuds echoed as men jumped down from the tops of bookcases and rushed towards the group that had just entered.
The group dropped to the ground, rolling for cover under tables and behind bookshelves. The dank mustiness of unwashed floors and seawater wafted through the air, coupled with the smell of something distinct. The silhouettes of moving figures could be seen from the little moonlight which filtered through the windows on the sides of the room.
“They’ve got us surrounded!” Corelli whispered. “Quick, everyone form a circle, it’s out best chance.” The group ducked low and ran, forming around Corelli, back to back, creating a ring.
“Damn it, I can’t see anything!” Vulkie cried, shooting blindly into the darkness in front of her.
“If we can’t see, then they can’t see either!” Molly said, shooting in whichever direction footsteps sounded like they were approaching from. Heated gunfire tore through the air, with screams and curses as men were shot down.
The library door was kicked open and a female voice began to laugh. Everyone froze as the sound of clicking echoed on the wooden floorboards. A dull metallic clink followed, and a bright orange light appeared in midair. As they watched it descend to the ground, a ring of flames instantaneously engulfed the room, tracing a path around the bookcases. Molly fired into the gang of approaching men, now illuminated only by flames.
Vulkie issued a scream as she was tackled from the side and pinned down to the ground. “Vulkie!” Marc screamed, running to help her. He was caught from behind by two pairs of arms, rendering him unable to move as he struggled furiously. Corelli was grappling with a much larger man. Molly ran towards Vulkie, jamming the handle of her gun sideways down on the man’s temple. He fell limp.
A man near the door pointed his gun at Molly. “No, Molly, watch out!” Marc yelled as he struggled with two men. Molly turned just in time to see the man pull the trigger. But instead of a click there came the sound of a loud grotesque squish. Molly watched the man look down at his chest, from which was protruding the pointed end of a stiletto heel. He looked down in horror and tried to maneuver his hands around the object. His screams were cut short by the gurgles of blood in his throat as his eyes rolled back into his head.
With a push from behind, the man was detached from the heel and fell sideways to the ground, a pool of blood forming around him as he convulsed. A figure in black stood with her hands on her hips. “Well, well, I thought I might find you all here,” Riza said with a smirk on her face. “Who said you could leave me behind on such a fun adventure?”
“Riza! Watch out!” Molly screamed, flinging the knife she had pulled from the door, sending it flying through the air right into the eye of the man who had crept up behind Riza.
“Thanks,” Riza replied, a little shocked. As the man clutched at his face with terrified screams, the shelves began to catch fire, flames shooting up high into the air. The bodies of those who had been killed were engulfed by flames, their bodies issuing acrid black smoke as they burned. Marc and Corelli finally fought off their captors.
“I suggest you all get off the ship in the next minute, unless you want to be blown to bits. If you hadn’t noticed, this room is sitting right on top of the fuel tank,” Riza continued smugly, waving her gun towards the center of the room. She wrenched her knife out of the man’s eye socket and waved to the door. “Let’s go.”
The group hurriedly traversed the passages and made their way outside, running for dear life. They were not even thirty feet away from the boat when it exploded.
Molly heard herself screeching something as they hurtled to the railing. Perhaps it was "Go!" or "Jump!".
It might have been "No!" or "Stop!" but nonetheless, as if her feet carried her of her own accord, she felt the cool metal railing briefly under the heel of her black velvet pump, and then she was hurtling through free air.
She heard Riza's gleeful laughter just before she plunged beneath the surface of the dark water, the freezing water leeching the warmth from her body nearly immediately. Fighting with her ingrained fear of what might lurk in the darkness around her, she kicked wildly until her head broke the surface.
"Goddamnit. Goddamnit!" she panted, turning to see the liner now thoroughly engulfed in flames. A pale white face rose out of the water next to her.
"Riza." Molly said. "You just blew up an ocean liner, singlehandedly."
Despite the makeup now dripping down her face, Riza's smirk was still unmistakably smug.
"Is everyone alright?" Corellis voice came out of the darkness, and Molly called out, directing him by the sound of her voice. Fairly soon the entire group was treading water in a circle, watching the fleeing forms over the bridge, the lifeboats lowering into the water.
"We'll have to climb aboard one of those." Marc began to call out, and the first of a line of lifeboats began to come in their direction. In the flames they saw other people treading water around them, panicked by the first signs of flame.
"Well." Vulkie said, as one after another they were pulled aboard. "Its back to square one."
Tired, Molly put her head in her hands.
Sal was no where to be seen. Marc could only assume the worst as they were pulled into a lifeboat. Bodies littered the water around them. Molly, Riza, Vulkie, Andrew, and Marc all sat in silence. Riza had shown up just in time, and probably saved their lives. A big move on her part, especially since Marc's last contact with her. Everyone sat shivering on the boat; each person with their own different expressions on their faces. Marc searched in his head for something to say. But what? Molly had barely forgiven him, and that much he was thankful for. Riza on the other hand...Marc had nothing to say.
Everything seemed to be going FUBAR for him.
"Well." Vulkie said. "Its back to square one." She was right. Marc looked back at Riza who stared back at him. He wanted to say that he was surprised to see her. But he could only imagine what she would say back to him. And it probably wouldn't be pretty.
It wasn't long before another ship showed up to pick up the survivors from the explosion. Twenty-four hours later, they arrived at a dock in England and boarded a train for London. When they arrived in the city, Marc asked, "Now what?"
Corelli was distracted for the most part of the travel by train, looking out through the window and asking about the various debris in England. Molly patiently explained to him, even if it was just to break the uncomfortable silence that the group was casting, what kind of structure every building was before the german bomb raids, before the big firestorm that devoured the city, and before the evacuations, in a time when the sky was blue and the kids could play without worrying about any red alarm...
"Now what?" Marc asked as soon as they got off the train.
"Well, the newspapers are covering a story. It looks like it has something to do with our problem. Maybe if we talk to them, we could get some useful information...and..."
Corelli tried to say something, stopped, and finally continued, "Well, I know this isn't the best moment but...do you know any good tailors around here? Since we lost everything on the ship, I thought..."
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