The Newton Cipher – Snippet 13
A knock on the door woke Trina. Faint light through the curtains told her it was morning.
Alice entered, carrying a tray, which she set down beside Trina on the bed. Tea, toast, and eggs over easy, with brown sauce on the side. And two aspirin, in a little dish.
“Wow,” Trina said, her voice croaky with sleep. “I didn’t know bed and breakfast meant breakfast in bed. Wait … how …”
“Someone had a rough night,” Alice said. “How are you feeling?”
The pain at her temple was a dull ache. Her neck was tender. She swallowed the two aspirin with a gulp of hot, milky tea.
“Ok, I think. Although I’m not entirely sure what happened.”
“You were assaulted.” Alice gestured out the window, in the direction of Hyde Park. “You were very fortunate that man found you.”
“What man?” Everything from the night before was hazy.
“Tall, blond. Awfully cute. MI5 or something.”
“Interpol?” Trina took a tentative bite of toast. Her jaw was sore. No, her entire face was.
Alice pulled a card from her apron. Trina recognized it immediately. She had one too.
“Yes, Interpol. Ulrik Stander. He said he would drop by this morning to check on you.”
“How did he find me?” Trina asked, between mouthfuls. She found her appetite, and was suddenly ravenous. The toast was already gone, and the eggs were disappearing rapidly.
Alice refilled her tea. “I’m not sure. He said he was on his way here to ask you some questions, and thought he heard you across the street in the park. Lucky he came when he did. You were already unconscious.”
Trina didn’t recall being quite so close to the hotel. But she was lost and running. She could have been anywhere.
From down in the lobby they heard the door chime.
“That’ll be him, most likely.”
“I’m a mess.” Trina looked herself over. She was still in her clothes from the night before. Alice noticed too.
“Yeah, about that,” Alice said. “He brought you upstairs, but I thought it best not to undress you, especially in front of him. I did however take off your sweatshirt, and we removed that necklace of yours. Just so you didn’t choke yourself in the night.”
“Did he, um, say anything?”
“Don’t worry,” Alice said, misunderstanding Trina’s concern. “I was very discreet. But he did give that necklace a once-over. We both did. It’s beautiful, and rather odd. He said it must be very old.”
“It was a gift from a friend.”
Alice took the tray off the bed. “Shall I send him up?”
“No!” Trina said. Then, realizing she didn’t want Alice to get the wrong idea, added, “I’d just like a quick shower. Can you ask him to wait a few minutes? I’ll be right down.”
Alice curtsied. “I will ask the gentleman to wait in the parlor while the lady prepares to receive him.”
Trina giggled. “Thanks, Alice.”
“You’re welcome. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes on him.” She winked. “Rather hard not to.”
Ten minutes later Trina came down to the small lobby, her hair still damp. Ulrik was sitting on one of Alice’s paisley sofas, which contrasted comically with his black leather jacket and dark denim pants.
He stood when he saw her, rising to his full six-foot plus height.
Alice was behind the counter, pretending to be busy, a barely concealed smile on her face. Trina thought she detected a bit of a blush on her cheeks.
“Miss Piper. Nice to see you up and about.”
“Trina, remember?” she said. “And I guess I have you to thank for rescuing me last night.”
“Not exactly,” he said, looking over her bruises.
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t fight off your attacker, if that’s what you mean. Whoever did this had already fled when I found you.”
“How exactly did you find me?”
Ulrik’s eyes flicked toward Alice, who was humming as she filled a small shelf with tourist brochures, pretending not to be eavesdropping.
“Can we go somewhere else? There’s a Coffee Island around the corner. It’s public and we can talk.”
“Fine,” she said. “Let me grab my coat.”
“Bring that necklace, too. The one you had on last night.”
“My necklace?” she asked. “Why?”
“I’d like to have a closer look at it.”
Ten minutes later they were seated at the counter of a modern-looking coffee chain. It looked like any of the American chains — metal and wood furniture, lots of light, inoffensive pop music playing overhead.
A barista set two lattes in front of them, artful designs that looked like brown-and-white leaves traced into the foamy surface.
“Want to tell me what happened?” Ulrik asked, after taking a sip. “What were you doing in the park, alone, at night? I was pretty sure I told you to stay in well-lit areas.”
His face looked serious, but there was a glint in his eye. Trina told him about being forced to walk home, and the police detour at the south end of Hyde Park. Then, more quietly, about getting lost in the darkness, hearing the footsteps, and running. She recalled the eyes in the darkness, and tripping. She’d hit her head when she fell, saw bright lights — probably because she’d hit her head, right? Oh there were the cold hands at her neck, and the awful stench of decay.
She shuddered as she finished, tightening her hands around her cup for warmth and the sensation of something solid and familiar.
“That’s what I remember,” she said. “And you? I assume you weren’t just walking around Hyde Park for fun last night.”
“You were following me, weren’t you?”
“Why? Instead of — how do the Brits say it? — skulking along behind me through London, you could have just walked next to me. I’m a fairly decent conversationalist, you know. And I would have appreciated the company last night.”
“Tell me about the necklace,” Ulrik repeated.
“That’s it? Tell me about the necklace? What are you, a detective or something?”
“I had a good reason for following you, Trina. Tell me about the necklace first. It did come from Edelstein, didn’t it?”
“Yes,” Trina said, as if confessing to a crime. She started to pull it out from under her shirt, but Ulrik put his hand over her wrist. His hand was warm and strong, and he brought her arm back down to the counter gently.
“Not here. I saw it already. Last night, when you — “
“I know. Alice told me how you got me in bed. To bed, I mean. Took me up to bed! Ah, that is, you know, brought me up to bed, with Alice. Wait, that’s — “
His smile got broader the more she got flustered.
“How about, ‘put you in bed fully clothed and left under the watchful eye of your hotel’s proprietor’?”
“Yeah, that.” Trina calmed herself with a long swallow of latte.
“Let’s start again: when did Edelstein give you the necklace?”
Trina told him how, the night she discovered Edelstein in his home office, he gave it to her, while he repeatedly asked for help.
“Take it, he said. And then, help. So that’s what I did. I took it, and got him help. Am I in trouble? Is Alasdair in trouble? Did he take this necklace from the Ambrosiana or something? Why do you care?”
“That’s a lot of questions,” Ulrik said. “And I don’t have all the answers. Let’s go in reverse order. First, I care because yes, that pendant on your necklace is clearly old, and possibly from the Ambrosiana.”
“It is? How do you — “
“I thought I saw record of something like it in the Ambrosiana catalogs once, when I was helping assess their inventory. But I can’t be sure. For now, just keep it safe.”
Trina looked at the pendant for a second, tracing its imperfect symmetry with her thumb, then slid it back under her shirt.
“Next question: did Alasdair Edelstein take that necklace from the Ambrosiana? I don’t know. If he did, it hasn’t been reported missing. I even ran a description of it through Interpol’s stolen artifacts database last night, but came up with nothing. And so, because it hasn’t been reported missing or stolen, I have no idea where Edelstein got it. Which answers the next question — no, Edelstein is not in trouble.”
“Well, that’s a relief. We’re in the clear.”
“Edelstein is. But Trina Piper? Yes, and no. Yes, because you were assaulted last night. It could have been random, given everything going on in London. Or you could have been target — and that’s what worries me. But no, you are no longer a suspect.”
“A suspect? You mean in Edelstein’s attack? I already told you. He’s my advisor and friend.”
“And you were the only one who knew how to get into his house. You had keys. You found him. You were in possession of what looks like a rare and unique item which you admit came from Edelstein himself. And then, within hours of the assault, you left the United States. Those kinds of things are what law enforcement call red flags. And you threw up a lot of them.”
“Is that why you were following me?”
“Yes. We knew you were in London, and I agreed to have you followed. I just chose to do it myself.”
“How? I was all over this city.”
He pulled his smartphone out of his pocket, tapped at it, then set it down on the counter. It was one of the extra-large phones, the kind that Trina could barely hold in the palm of her hand. On the screen was a map, and in the middle a green dot. The dot was … right where they were, the very Coffee Island cafe in which they sat.
“How the hell is it doing that?”
Ulrik reached into Trina’s coat pocket and fished around, eventually tugging out what looked like a tiny circuitboard attached to a small piece of clear tape. The device was less than the size of her thumbnail.
“You’ve been tracking me? When, where — ” But then she knew. “Trader Vics!”
“I waited until you went to the restroom. As a person of interest, we needed to make sure your story checked out. If you tried to run … well, you didn’t. And last night detectives in South Bend got lab results back. You didn’t assault Edelstein. Someone else did.”
“I could have told you that. In fact, I’ve been trying to.” Trina couldn’t hide her frustration.
“Look, I’m sorry. This hasn’t been the best welcome to England. I was going to try to come find you last night, to get this tracker back. But when I saw your green dot on my screen moving through James Park, I was in my car within minutes. I followed you into Hyde Park, figuring you were lost. I heard a scream. I ran, then I saw some kind of light. It only last a few seconds. When I found you, you were out cold.”
“What caused the light?” Trina asked, as frightened as she was fascinated to hear Ulrik’s account of her assault.
Ulrik pushed his empty cup across the counter. “I have no idea.”