a princess in u-town (part seven)

This story started here.

The next few hours were probably hectic for some, but not for Christy, Princess Valeria, or me.

We ended up sitting in silence for a while, drinking our tea, and then the princess went into the bathroom and closed the door.

As I was mentally double-checking that the bathroom was absolutely secure -- with only one tiny window that was several stories above the street -- Christy stood up and moved silently toward me. She leaned way over, so that we were almost nose-to-nose, and she whispered, "You know something."

I nodded.

She waited a moment, discovered that I wasn't prepared to explain any further, and made a moue of disapproval. And then, before straightening up, she apparently decided that this was not sufficiently emphatic, so she stuck her tongue out at me.

When the princess emerged from the bathroom, she went to the window, apparently about to pull back the curtain, but I was across the room before she touched it. I reached for her wrist, but she let her hand drop.

"I get..." she said, looking around the room. Her face was clean, but it was still puffy.

I nodded. "I know," I said, aware of exactly what she meant. "When my employer investigates the scene of a crime, she's very thorough, and that takes time."

"This is Miss Sleet's room, isn't it?" the princess asked suddenly.

"Hers and mine, yes," I said.

A smile flickered across her face. "I am aware that, in addition to being her loyal assistant, you are also her husband, but my point is that this is her room, correct?" By this time she was smiling more steadily.

Not seeing where she was going, I nodded. "It is."

"Then I'm sure there must be cigarettes around here somewhere."

We all laughed.

By the time my employer arrived, the princess was asleep, and I was close to dozing myself, leaning back as far as I could in my desk chair. Christy, of course, was awake and alert.

My employer, still in her pajamas and robe, regarded us from the doorway. As the princess raised her head, my employer said, "Val, your highness, I have, as the saying goes, good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have many questions to ask you, and then I will have some things to tell you. The good news is this: I bring coffee." She glanced at me. "Which I am personally willing to vouch for."

Her mouth quirked. We both knew that she would have had some sharp words if we'd allowed the princess to drink the possibly-poisoned coffee earlier.

She opened the door wide and Fifteen wheeled in a small rolling table containing a coffee service, plus a stack of pastries and bagels.

Jan took her own desk chair, displacing Christy, and Fifteen brought in two straight-backed chairs. There was some back and forth about who would sit where (other than my employer, who was obviously not about to surrender her own chair for anybody, not even royalty -- so I gave the princess my chair), but eventually we settled down.

The princess sipped her coffee, and, after swallowing a bite of a danish, said, "Miss Sleet, do you know what happened? Am I still in danger now? Why..."

My employer put down her coffee cup (she never ate in the morning -- her breakfast was always a cigarette and coffee) and said, "I'm afraid that, as I said, I need some answers before I can provide any."

The princess sighed. "I know that's reasonable. Can we get started now?"

"Of course. The first thing I need to know is what happened last night, from your point of view."

The princess sighed again, more deeply, and sipped her coffee.

"I was asleep. When I woke up, Ana was struggling with Archie. They were fighting over a gun, and it had gone off -- that's what woke me up. I don't know what happened before that."

She paused for a moment and wiped her eyes. "I tried to get to them, to help her--"

"Where were they?"

"Near the door to his room. I tried to climb over the foot of the bed, but then there was another shot -- so loud -- and he fell back and I could see the blood on his shirt--"

"So, the light was on, in your room?"

"I... I guess it must have been."

"And his room? The doorway would have been behind him, based on where you say he was and where he fell. Was his light on?"

She looked off into space for a moment, then she shook her head.

"I don't know, not for sure."

"Understandable. And after the second shot?"

"He fell back, as I said, and I guess he shoved her at the last moment -- Ana -- or at least she stepped backward a couple of steps, losing her balance, swinging her arms around, and then she tripped over something and she fell.

"She... she hit her head, the back of her head, on the edge of the coffee table, and she didn't get up. I went to her, and her eyes were open, but..."

She was obviously finding this part harder and harder to tell.

"I tried to help her. Her... her eyes were open, but I couldn't tell if she saw me. She was twitching, like cats do when they're sleeping, and I couldn't get her to..."

"And then you screamed."

The princess nodded.

My employer leaned back in her chair. "Well, let me tell you what I know about Archie Glover, your bodyguard, based on my examination of his room and his body."

The princess glanced up, and my employer paused. "I never knew his last name," the princess said. She shook her head. "I'm sorry. Please continue."

"He did not go to bed last night. He stayed awake, and at some point he went downstairs and got coffee from the cafeteria and a couple of magazines from the lobby.

"He sat in his chair, drank coffee and read magazines, and apparently watched the time on his wristwatch, which was propped up on the bedside table where he could see it from the chair.

"Then, presumably soon before his attack on you, he took his gun, turned off the light in his room, and opened the door. The window was raised in his room, and he had a fake passport and a substantial amount of cash in his pockets, so presumably his plan was to murder you, and then escape through the window, down the fire escape, and away. He probably switched on the light as he stepped in -- the connecting rooms here have switches next to both doors -- and was ready to fire as soon as he'd located his victims."

She shrugged. "It was a good plan, and it almost certainly would have worked."

"Except for Ana."

"Yes, except for Ana."

We were silent for a moment, then the princess said, "So, that's what you know. That my bodyguard deliberately set out to kill me?"

"I know much more than that. But now I need to ask you some things, because what I don't know is the motive. I need your help with that."

More to come...

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