Title: The Train: Chapter Five, Part One
Chapter Five, Part One
The lounge room was appropriated for the sake of interviews. It irritated the other consuls to no end, but Monsieur Cassan had been more than willing to give them the space. The man was clearly shocked, but doing his best not to let on to the rest of his passengers. He assembled the group in the dining car that morning and explained, in as few words as possible, the “vile and nefarious act that had occurred on his train,” and that, in accordance with the will of the Emperor’s investigator, they would not be stopping on their way to Lucerne, so as to preserve the scene of the crime as best they could.
It went unsaid, but understood, that as long as the train was moving, it would be difficult for the perpetrator to escape. For a limited time, Camille could be assured that the killer was among the group of people on board. If a stop were allowed, that would change. It was, he said, too great a risk.
“But I must leave once we reach Zürich!” Anton had quietly but fervently protested over the disconcerted murmur of the other passengers.
“Then you had better hope we catch the killer in the next forty-eight hours,” Camille had replied with perfect unconcern. “More like thirty-six now, actually.”
“This wasn’t part of our deal! You never said I would have to—”
“I said you would have to play your role to the hilt,” Camille interrupted, his voice soft but intense. “I said you would have to bear the responsibility of your actions no matter what course they took. You chose to come aboard this train in the duplicitous manner than you did, and now you will continue with that task until I have no further use of you, or I will make your life far more difficult than missing your stop in Zürich ever could. Is that understood?”
It wasn’t the first time Lord Lumière had reminded Anton of his part to play in this charade, but it was the first time it had sent a chill down Anton’s spine. This man, who he had so recently felt a degree of amity and understanding with, had no true concern for Anton’s affairs. He was working in his official capacity, and if that meant throwing Anton beneath the wheels of the very train they rode, then he would do so without a word of apology. It was a frightening realization, and Anton turned his face away as he fought to control the fear. He had been far too afraid far too often, lately.
“Consul Hasler.” Lord Lumière’s hand was suddenly on his shoulder, squeezing gently. “Look at me.”
“I would rather not.” The other man would read too much from his face.
“Anton.” He spoke with quiet fervency. “I believe it can be done. We can discover the murderer and his associates before it’s too late, but I can’t do it without your help. You have already proven invaluable to this investigation, and I do not take that lightly. Hold on for me, just a few hours more.”
It was stupid to feel reassured by the same man who had had him quaking in his shoes a moment earlier, but Anton did. Lord, he was such a soft touch. “Fine.” He squared his shoulders and set his jaw. “Let’s get on with this.”
The first thing to do, and the most pressing, was interviewing the people closest to the crime. The first screams had come from one of Viscount Bonaparte’s two personal servants, one of them a young woman currently so pale she would put milk to shame. She wore a royal blue smock and apron, both cut shorter than was usual, and her hair was in a state of utter disarray. She accepted the cup of tea that Camille pressed upon her when she sat down, but she didn’t actually raise it to her lips, instead cradling the heat of it in her hands.
“And your surname?” Camille prompted.
“Oh, yes.” She gave a fluttering little laugh, but there was no heart to it. “Orlande. Yvette Orlande.”
“How long have you been employed by the viscount?”
“Nearly a year now.” Her lips pressed tight together, and she kept her eyes firmly on the floor.
“During that time, can you recall any person or people who offered him violence? Any arguments, any personal disputes?”
“It isn’t my place to remember such things,” she said. “I exist to serve the viscount.”
Rather unique wording. Anton found himself frowning, but he held his tongue and let Camille keep going.
“Of course,” Camille agreed. “Very appropriate of you. Tell me about what happened this morning. The order of events as you remember them.”
“I was…I was sleeping,” Yvette began, her eyebrows scrunching a bit.
“In the viscount’s room?” Camille interrupted.
Finally color began to come back into Yvette’s face, a heated, shamed blush. “Sir…”
“I have no interest in passing judgment on your arrangement with the viscount, whatever it was,” Camille assured her. “But do not let conventional propriety hold back the truth.”
“Not…not in the viscount’s room,” she whispered. “Not last night. Usually, yes, he likes us to be in with him, but not last night. I woke up, though, and it was simply…habit to check on him. When I saw him lying there on the floor, I just—I didn’t know what to do.” She finally turned her wide, pained eyes on both of them. “What should I have done?”
“I cannot say.” Camille’s voice was gentle, but his eyes were not. “Thank you for your candor, Yvette. Send in your partner, if you please.”
“Yes, of course.” She got up and left the room, and Anton immediately turned to Camille.
“She is hiding something.”
“She is hiding, or rather, attempting to hide a good many things. But now isn’t the time to discuss them.” He tilted his head meaningfully toward the door, where a young man about Yvette’s age was entering. Anton subsided and let Camille continue the interviews.
The questions for Yvete’s counterpart were largely the same, but his—Bernard Orlande’s—reactions were far less demure. “I’ve been with him for nearly as long as Yvette,” he snapped. “We’re married.”
Well, that explained the names, Anton thought.
“And did you observe any incidents of argument or violence between the viscount and anyone else during that time?” Camille went on, unperturbed by the man’s tone.
“Only every other night.” Bernard had the same thin, elegantly wan appearance of his wife, but rather more fire, especially now that his employer was wrapped up in sheets repurposed as shrouds and laid in the train’s freezer compartment. Camille had overseen the wrapping himself, but hadn’t yet shared any more of his observations with Anton. “It won’t surprise anyone to know that my lord made enemies far easier than friends. Even the emperor wanted to get rid of him, and they’re first cousins; why else would he be ordered to marry in Lucerne? He was being pushed aside and he knew it. My lord did not appreciate that.”
“He had enemies among his fellow aristocrats?”
“Every one of his breaths held insults, every sigh was shaped to scorn. Who could love such a hateful man?”
“You speak very strongly about the man who was your employer.” Anton’s voice held no censure, but Bernard narrowed his eyes regardless.
“Lord Lumière, I will be the first to confess that my heart never held any love for him. He held a geis over my wife that enforced her loyalty to him, and by marrying her, I shared it.”
Anton frowned. Such things were hedge-magic at best, once common if crude means of enforcing the loyalty of one’s serfs, but they had gone out of fashion in the Middle Ages. Too much sacrifice was required, and after a few hideous royal incidents that resulted in hundreds of deaths, the practice had been banned in Britain. Anton had thought that wisdom would hold true through all the civilized world, but apparently the French were rather more rustic and bloodthirsty than he’d thought.
“And why would a free young man do such a thing?” Camille asked.
“Because there is only so much suffering I could bear to see before I had to act. A geis shared is a burden halved, and it was due to run its course in another year. Then we would have been free of him.”
“I see. Thank you for your time, Monsieur Orlande.” Camille extended his hand, and after a moment, Bernard shook it. “If you would send in Monsieur Cassan on your way out,” Camille added.
“I…that’s all?” Bernard seems a bit flustered. Anton felt rather the same. “You’ve no more questions for me?”
“Well, don’t go leaping from the train, but no. Not at the moment.” He left, and Anton turned incredulously to Camille.
“No more questions? He practically bragged about how much he despised the viscount!”
Camille shrugged. “True, but as he said, any number of people despised the man.”
“But not all of those people had such a means or motive to kill him!”
Camille looked curiously at Anton. “You think he could have fought the geis?”
“I don’t even know the boundaries of it. How am I to know whether or not it would have precluded physical harm?” Anton demanded.
“That’s a standard feature in them.”
It felt like his mind was lost at sea, all his certainty packed onto an island that was rapidly disappearing into the distance. “How are such barbaric things so common?”
“They are not common,” Camille countered. “Nor were they ever. But they do stem from a certain class, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. That class of people is quite careful with themselves: clauses against causing harm are almost always a part of a geis.”
“So then he couldn’t have done it?”
“I didn’t say that,” Camille murmured. “Ah, Monsieur Cassan. Please be seated.”
Anton hadn’t even noticed him entering the room. He straightened his back and clasped his hands attentively, but Cassan didn’t seem to mind, smiling apologetically at them both as he sat down.
“Forgive the delay, Lord Lumière. With things so amiss my presence has been required in too many places at once.”
“We will strive not to keep you for long,” Camille said. “Tell me of your evening, Monsieur, and your early morning. You are the train master, but I know that even you must sleep sometime.”
“True enough,” Cassan agreed. “Although last night was a bit irregular for me. I’m sure the Orlandes already told you of their altered circumstances last night.” He seemed a bit shame-faced. “I assure you, I wasn’t trying to foment discord in the viscount’s personal affairs. His lordship went to bed early, and the Orlandes seemed desperate for some time alone. I gave them my berth for the night.”
“I’m sure they appreciated it,” Camille said. Anton felt fortunate that nothing was required of him but silence, because he hadn’t seen this coming. “Which meant that you slept where?”
“In the laundry room, for a few hours. I don’t need as much sleep as most men.”
“That is at the back of the train,” Camille noted. “So you were nowhere near the viscount’s room this morning?”
“I was delivering laundry this morning, actually,” Cassan replied. “I see you got your jacket back, sir,” he added in an aside to Anton, who was startled into nodding like an idiot. “I had just finished and was heading up to the dining car to check on the state of breakfast when I heard Madame Orlande scream. I ran to meet her, I saw the state of the room and it’s poor inhabitant beyond, and I immediately locked it and sent for you.”
“The door was unlocked when you got there?”
“I…I left my personal keys with the Orlandes, so that they would be able to return to his lordship when he needed them.” Cassan sighed deeply. “I hung them on a hook just inside the door of my berth. It isn’t impossible to think that someone could have grabbed them without the Orlandes noticing. It was a careless action, and I fear that Viscount Bonaparte paid for my laxity with his life.”
Anton was going to give himself apoplexy if he held in his exclamations much longer. Camille had pity on him.
“That is all for now, Monsieur Cassan. Go and feed your passengers. I may call upon you again later.”
“At any time, day or night,” the trainmaster said graciously. He stood and removed himself from the room, and Anton turned to Camille full of theory.
The quick shake of Camille’s head forestalled Anton’s outburst. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s wrong.”