Bradamant nodded, and turned back to Inspector Singh. ‘I am at your disposal, sir,’ she said.
‘Perhaps we might also consider leaving,’ Vale suggested. ‘Unless you want to discuss matters further with Lord Silver, Miss Winters?’
Irene thought about having to explain things to Silver. Having to explain anything to Silver. ‘What an excellent idea,’ she agreed enthusiastically. ‘Kai, unless you can think of anything that we’ve left undone, this might be a good moment to leave.’
Kai wiped his sword with an unstained bit of tablecloth, and put it down on the table. ‘I am entirely at your disposal,’ he said. ‘Where are we going?’
Then Irene remembered that they didn’t have hotel rooms. Wonderful. One more thing to sort out.
Her dismay must have shown on her face, and Vale stepped in, almost smiling. ‘Allow me to offer you the hospitality of my rooms for the night, Miss Winters. I have a couple of spare bedrooms – and what’s more, it will allow your friend and Inspector Singh to find you in the morning.’
Inspector Singh nodded, and Irene revised her opinion of his relationship with Vale by a few notches. Clearly the two men were used to working together. She’d have to bear that in mind.
She tried to remember exactly where India stood in the history of this alternate. It had become an independent trade partner of Great Britain rather than a colony (not due to any particular lack of imperialism on Britain’s part, sadly) and the two Empires still maintained close ties. That’d explain Singh’s accent.
Kai stepped forward and offered Irene his arm. She took it, suddenly conscious of her weariness, and of the confusion around her. The air was heavy with the smell of blood. Human bodies littered the floor together with alligator corpses – mauled limbs, bloody torsos, screaming faces. Some men and women were still sobbing in corners. Others were filing out of the room, talking to the policemen, or simply drinking. Only a few of the tables were still upright; others had been battered down or had collapsed under the weight of people crowding onto them. The lovely floor was scarred by claws and gunshots, and soaked with blood.
There was so much blood.
‘Are you all right?’ Kai said softly.
There might have been a time when Irene would have said, No, I’m not, and shut her eyes for just a few minutes. But it was not now, and definitely not in front of Bradamant. She swallowed, and tried not to breathe the air more than she could help. ‘I will manage,’ she said curtly. ‘Thank you.’
‘Your cloak, Miss Winters,’ Vale said, draping it over her shoulders. She must have been dangerously distracted, as he’d retrieved it without her noticing. She made a note to be more careful, and filed it along with all the other notes to be more precise, more attentive, less squeamish, and less inclined to curl up and cry on someone’s shoulder.
Inspector Singh clicked his heels together, half-bowed, and turned away with Bradamant, staying a very precise half-foot away from her. Bradamant didn’t look back as she followed him.
Outside, on the steps of the Liechtenstein Embassy, there was a mob of photographers, reporters and interested parties. Street vendors were even selling roasted chestnuts, doughnuts and candied peanuts. Their fragrance blended with the taint of Irene’s bloodstained dress, and she had to struggle not to be sick.
‘Did you see the elder Miss Retrograde leave?’ Kai asked.
Irene shook her head. ‘I saw her alive at the end, but didn’t see her go. I suppose she may be useful. If she knows something.’
Vale came to a sharp halt, looking down at her. ‘The elder Miss Retrograde? Miss Olga Retrograde?’
‘That was the lady in question,’ Irene said. ‘Is there something that we should know about her, sir?’
‘Only that she’s the biggest society blackmailer in London,’ Vale said. ‘The lady is extremely well known for knowing things. The unfortunate thing is that what she knows is rarely advantageous to anyone except herself. As to your acquaintance with her . . .’
‘It was the first time we’d met,’ Irene said hastily. The curl of Vale’s lip made his opinion of the lady extremely clear. ‘She realized that we weren’t Canadians.’
Vale snorted, and turned away to signal a cab.
‘Do you think we’ll have a problem?’ Kai murmured.
‘We’re probably the least likely people in that room to have a problem with her,’ Irene answered, equally quietly. ‘After all, what can she blackmail us with?’
Kai laughed. ‘True.’
‘Over here!’ Vale called. One of the swarming cabs had answered his uplifted hand. They had to elbow their way to it through the edges of the crowd, avoiding reporters with notebooks and cameras. Vale drew the shade across the window as they set off.
‘Do you expect us to be watched?’ Irene asked.
‘It seems likely, Miss Winters,’ Vale answered. ‘In my own defence, I will say that I am not unknown to the criminal section of London – nor them to me. But since I have not attempted to hide my identity, we may as well return to my lodgings directly.’
Irene nodded, settling back into her seat. The passenger compartment of the cab had two wide leather-covered benches facing each other. Its basic structure was similar to that of a classical hansom carriage, but it was electric-powered rather than horse-drawn, and built of metal rather than wood. She’d been in hansoms before now, and it was strange to be in something so close to one without hearing the sound of hoofbeats.