|When the Clock Struck Midnight
Author: Lady Josephine Rose PM
Marianne Harris is sent to uncover the murder of a famous Russian actress on the renowned "unsinkable" ship: the RMS Titanic. On a voyage full of suspense, mystery, betrayal, and romance, Marianne will not only learn what it's like to fall in love, but also that everything comes with a price. Links and full summary on my profile. Historical fiction/mystery.Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery/Drama - Chapters: 17 - Words: 46,776 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 12-16-12 - Published: 11-01-12 - id: 3070401
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
On their trek down under the brim of the sea, Marianne and Henry were just entering the third-class general room when they were welcomed by a festive sight. All around the place, there were children running about, dozens of different languages being flung back from one person to the other, and the same old man banging at the piano—a cheery tune—and all crowded in that one space. Almost all the wooden benches were empty; as Marianne took the first daring step into foreign territory, she was met by a billow of smoke that had come from the cigarette of a grumpy elder propped near the doorway.
"Oh, hello," Marianne said weakly, then let a tight laugh escape. Henry followed closely on her tail, a protective pair of arms ready if need be.
As Marianne passed by another crowd of gawking steerage passengers, a small group of men she assumed were Swedish sent her toothy grins, and looking past the poor hygiene, many of them were attractive, she noticed. "Excuse me," she mumbled politely before squeezing past a crowd of women speaking rapidly in some Slavic language Marianne couldn't identify.
Eventually they wounded up at the other side of the room with no sign of a blue-eyed, blond-haired man in a corduroy jacket. A feeling of defeat rumbling in her stomach, she was about to give up when a familiar voice wafted its way past the nearest entryway. When Marianne peaked around the corner, she caught sight of a burly man the same size as their killer and a set of icy blue eyes.
"Oh!" Marianne gasped, pulling Henry aside when he questioned what the matter was. "Alexandrov is over there!" she hissed, shushing his prying tone and slapping his arm to shut him up. "We need to be nonchalant about this, all right?"
After formulating a plan that mainly consisted of a pleasant tour throughout the ship, the two started exiting the general room talking of general matters, such as the weather and the voyage, before stumbling upon no other than Ivan—and Sergei Petrov.
Mouth dropping open, Marianne turned it into a surprised smile when Sergei gave her the suspicious eye. "Mr. Alexandrov!" she exclaimed while gasping in shock. "Why, what are you doing here?"
Sergei, after whispering something very quickly in Russian to Ivan, bowed his head and dashed away, deflating Marianne's hope. Finally, Ivan's attention was on them, and they had nothing planned to say. "I could ask the same about you, Miss," he replied smoothly, which made the blood drain out of Marianne's face. "And Mr. Marlowe, it is kind of you to escort the lady on her grand escapades."
"She is quite the curious one indeed, old chap," Henry responded, swallowing nervously and perspiring over his ironed tuxedo.
Ivan gave him a inquisitorial look. "Is that what the English say?" he scoffed, chortling at his joke. "It seems as though my foreign education is rusty."
Striking up a discussion about foreign affairs, such as espionage, strangely enough, Marianne's ears couldn't focus on their boring chatter much longer—and that's when he appeared.
The bowler hat pulled down across his face. A dark coat, his hands stuffed into his pockets. It was the crime master in disguise—and heading away from them in a shuffling pace!
"Henry!" Marianne yelled, slapping both of the men out of their pleasant talk. "There he is!"
Without glancing back to see if he was following her, Marianne broke out into a run, desperate to catch the person behind all of her worries once and for all. Farther and farther into untouched land she went, no longer aware of where she was, her eyes trained solely on the flapping coat in front of her.
For the longest time the only thing Marianne could hear was her rapid breath and pounding heart in her ears, but then something else came up into her ears; either it was from paranoia or the white corridors echoing it off from someplace else, there was a frightful giggle that sent a frigid shiver down Marianne's spine.
Down a carpeted stairway.
Through the doorway with a piercing scream.
Across the rungs of a metal floor.
But that diabolic scoff didn't stop her from sprinting. By the time she had reached the dark, steamy gut of the ship, she stopped to catch her wheezy breath, gawking at the heart of the floating city: the boiler rooms.
"Marianne!" Henry puffed, falling onto the railing she was gripping tightly. Then he saw the wondrous view around them, and his jaw fell open. "Jesus Christ!"
Bouts of a foggy vapor and black soot hid the depth of the grand place, but to Marianne it looked like it extended on forever. Men, coal dust and shining sweat covering their clothes and skin, worked laboriously at every tall, ghastly boiler. Shoveling, wiping brows, and huffing were the only three things the men working at the stations could do. Henry watched with ample curiosity at a man carting a load of fine coal, which sent up puffs of black powder the moment he emptied the sack.
"This place is like a machine!" Marianne gaped, shuffling past the walkway and catching sight of the gigantic engines, pushing the forty-thousand ton ship through miles of water. "And it's absolutely enormous!"
"I'm so speechless, I don't know what to say, so I'll just go with a simple touché," Henry said, as dumbfounded as Marianne.
Through the billows of smoke and steam, there was a person draped in black creeping past the hundreds of workers manning the ship's beating heart. "There he goes!" Marianne spluttered, and dashed off without another word.
Cringing at her precarious steps down the ladders in her long day dress, Henry cried out, "Be careful, Marianne! This place is dangerous!" With his warning out of the way, he shook his head and ran right after.
This is it, Marianne thought, adrenaline pulsing through her veins. This is the killer. Just as she was catching up with the intruder, a bulky arm blocked her path, making her scream and almost fall backwards. Henry rammed right into her.
"Hey!" the owner of the massive arm, and a thick Irish accent, yelled over the piercing sounds from the rumbling boilers. "No passengers are allowed down here! How'd you get in, huh?"
When there came no reply but an incoherent stutter from the wide-eyed Henry, the man by the name of Barrett shouted, "You two need to leave immediately, or I'm calling the master-at-arms on you." Obviously furious at their presence, Marianne's finger gripped Henry's arm tighter as he stumbled for the right words. "Get out of here!" And with that, he shooed them out of the precarious set of rooms, and into the cargo hold they went.
The iron door slammed shut with an echo that bounced off the walls of the metallic place. Whoever had designed it had separated the wealthy businessman and passengers' most prized possessions in a series of compartments closed off by a chain-link wall. Though the room wasn't much of a jaw-dropping place, it was still huge and extended down a long hallway, which eventually was cut off by an exit—or entrance, however you think about it—door.
Certainly the stoker-in-charge, that Barrett, would be sending down inspectors or someone of the like to see what was going on down in the exhausting boiler rooms. If Marianne had to describe the satanic series of twenty-nine boilers, it would be the underworld itself, seething and sighing with wafts of smoke drifting through the already steamy air.
It must have been hard to breathe, she thought.
"This place is huge," Marianne eventually commented, breaking the dragged out silence. "Do you think we'll find anything in here?"
Henry's palm skidded down the smooth metal handle of the first compartment. "I doubt it'll be much help to us if we don't have the cargo manifest. That will have everything we're looking for and where it's all stashed."
Frowning, Marianne said boldly (and no longer in the mood for a chase), "Then why don't we take it? You'll distract the purser and I'll grab it…"
"But then when we return it and I have to do it again, he would know it's us when it magically appears at his desk," he retorted, then sighed. "And I don't want to go through faking something silly again."
"Silly? For your information, we got something of evidence!"
"Yes, and that helped so much," Henry said sarcastically. "We just learned that Ivan wasn't a killer at all, but some top secret spy sending telegrams in a basic code to some diabolic contact."
"I never said he was a spy! I just found it strange that he would have to write in code." Then she added, "And I also never said he couldn't have helped out in the murder. We still have much to learn."
Running out of recriminations, he opened his mouth to say something, but instead shut it and said, "Let's start, then. I'll search this compartment, and you search the one across from me."
Marianne nodded her head in agreement before taking the cold handle in her hand and jamming it open, the screeching of the door opening echoing across the tall, barren ceiling. There were crates upon crates of fragile objects such as crockery and wine glasses, and even a box stamped Tiffany & Co in bold, black print.
Then there were bags and valises with tags that had passenger names such as Carpenter and Harper, but nothing of interest was found between the crates—or inside, as Marianne became more frustrated and started propping open the wooden boxes that were able to open—or hidden under the piles of luggage.
And Marianne had been praying so hard that she'd be able to find something quickly. However, there was just too much stuff to sift through, and she began to wonder if a murderer would hide something in a hard spot or in plain sight.
Just as she was exiting the compartment, the hem of her dress wrinkled from hunching over on the ground, Henry was pacing down the hallway. "Did you find anything?" she asked hopefully, but it was a stupid question that only got the sarcastic reply, "What do you think?"
Watching Henry enter the next compartment over, Marianne's eyes shifted over to the one across that she could check. As much as she didn't want to take another ten or fifteen minutes performing a pointless pursuit, she wasn't ready to give up on the case just yet: There were still five or six days of the voyage left, and plenty of time to stabilize this jumbled mystery.
The first thing she noticed when she opened the door was the new, gleaming automobile. This must be what the Carters are lugging with them, she thought, her fingers grazing the smooth surface covered in shiny, red and black paint. Eager to fully examine it—after all, wasn't that her duty right now?—she comfortably scooted on the driver's seat, feeling her body sink in to the soft leather. Taking the wheel in her hands, she grinned and honked the horn, which caused an alarmed Henry to appear at the doorway.
"Look at this!" she exclaimed, laughing now. "Isn't it stunning?"
"Marianne," he sighed, and if it hadn't been for the minimal light, Marianne would have though the dark circles under his eyes were genuine. "We're not here to fool around."
Jumping out of where she was sitting, Marianne studied the glowing headlights and the window cutting off the seat in the back. "Let's look in here then," she said, taking hold of the handle and pulling the door open before Henry could protest.
And there it was: a dilapidated sack, brown and ugly and battered. Intrigued, and also alarmed, Marianne's suddenly tenuous hands reached out and grabbed it, her eyes widening with each new triumphant thought dinging in her head.
Henry didn't have to say a word as she untied the obnoxious rope keeping whatever was in it from spilling out. When it finally fell to the ground, the two just stood there, speechless. Then Marianne took the leap of faith and peeked inside, the blood racing horribly loud in her ears.
She expected to find some teeth indicating a ghastly murder or a knife rusted over from dried blood, but instead there were clothes. As Marianne poured out the contents on the upholstered seat of the Renault, she couldn't believe what they were: tattered dresses, stockings with holes in them, a pair of boots ready to fall apart. When she compared the size of the dirtied gowns to her own body, she noted how it went right above her ankle, and inched halfway up her thigh.
"Whoever owns this must not have the money to buy herself a new anything," Marianne said while folding the dress back up in her arms, the one of two that were stashed in the bag. "I was able to fit into these clothes when I was thirteen, and I'm not really that tall."
Once they had confiscated the evidence, Marianne wondered why someone would hide something in the Carters' car, something that was checked every day by the owner itself. "Come on," Henry said, pulling her out of her train of thought. "Let's report this to your father."
"There's a stowaway on this ship and I want her to be found!"
The news of a possible female killer on board was enough to send Mr. Harris on a personal opinion rampage, complaining about how if men were drunkards who beat their wives, then what were women becoming to? Would there ever be any balance in this world?
As Mr. Harris moved on to whining to Mr. Porter, Marianne leaned over in her place at the comfortable sofa and whispered in Henry's audible zone, "At least we know more than we did before."
In fact, the evidence was piling up, and though there was so much new information after almost three days of full sailing, there were still just as many questions that needed answers.
After a long session of just listening to Mr. Harris and Mr. Porter debate topics of the case and society, Marianne acknowledged her growling stomach and asked Henry if he wanted to escort her to dinner, which also meant another night with the Moores. But in her current circumstances, she'd rather hear things she'd never known before than listen to her father's repetitive opinions again.
Standing up from the sofa with Henry as her guide, Marianne interrupted the continuing brawl and said, "Henry and I are going to attend dinner, Father. Would you like to join us?"
"Wait! Mr. Harris yelled, giving both Marianne and Henry a shock. "There was something I just remembered that we should talk about." With that, he reached his hand into his coat pocket and pulled out the locket that had given Marianne her consciousness last night.
What Marianne noticed the moment her father handed it to her was the tenuous hold the two heart-shaped pieces had staying together, and the crumbly bits of glue that rubbed off on her fingers. "Is it—?"
"Opened?" Mr. Harris finished for her. "My dear, why don't you see for yourself?"
With the nail of her index finger, she picked it up and did exactly that.
There was Elena Novikov, looking straight at the camera without a hint of a smile on her face, which was younger and less developed. Next to her was a pair of dark, satanic eyes that sent a chill through Marianne's veins and a pupil-dilating realization to smack her across the forehead.
It was a woman she was familiar of, but had never seen in her whole life: The woman with the scar across her cheek.