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Page 79

Chapter 22

At least they didn’t put Violet into a cell. Small blessings. She rested her shackled hands on the wooden table in the tiny room they’d brought her to. They’d given her a sip or two of coffee then left her to stew for several hours. Her panic had receded, leaving her exhausted and worried.

Violet looked up as a man in a plain suit walked inside, laid a stack of papers he’d been carrying on the table, and sat down opposite her. The man didn’t look at her but started leafing through the papers.

“Now then,” he said in smooth French, but with a hint of Marseille dialect. He spread two of the sheets in front of him. “You are Princess Ivanova . . . with no surname.” He looked up at Violet and gave her a sardonic smile. “Or should I call you Your Highness?”

“It makes little difference what you call me,” Violet said in freezing tones. “Monsieur . . . ?”

“Bellec. I am a detective.”

“I see.” Violet could think of a number of haughty responses—I am certain your mother is very proud—but she decided it was best to play this quiet, cold, and superior.

“I’ll give you that you use Princess Ivanova as your stage name,” Bellec said. “But I need your real one. The landlady thinks it’s Perrault, but that’s not true, is it?”

“Why have you arrested me?” Upstart, Violet’s tone said. “I have done nothing wrong.”

“If you’d done nothing wrong, why did you run from the policemen?”

Violet maintained her frigid pose. “They frightened me. In Russia policemen often harassed me and the countess. We were not loved there. I feared these policemen were the same.”

He chuckled. “You play the part well, Mademoiselle. Or is it Madame? And where are you from in Russia? Saint Petersburg? Moscow? Easy for me to telegraph to the police there and find out, you know.”

Violet bathed him in silent scorn. She could only hope that her time here, keeping this detective guessing, would give her mother and Mary a chance to get out of the city. The agreement was that if they were forced to separate and run, they would meet at a certain hotel in Lucerne, and from there decide what to do. Celine should have enough for the train with her, and so should Mary. Only Violet had empty pockets, since she’d foolishly left her money in her room in her eagerness to rush to the parlor.

If Violet could get away from the police, perhaps she could find Daniel and beg for his help. Or she could hide in his little apartment until she could leave Marseille. The apartment was old, the lock on the door likely easy to pick.

“I demand to know why I was brought here,” she said, keeping up her part.

“Because you’re a fraud, Mademoiselle,” Detective Bellec said in an easy manner. “At least, that is what you are accused of. You went to the home of Monsieur Lanier to give him a show and took his money. Then, when he didn’t give you enough, you tried to steal it. Interestingly, he is more upset about your fraud. Monsieur Lanier said you employed a number of tricks—spirit knocking, moving the table, making the walls glow . . .”

“And how does he say I did these things?”

“Oh, there are ways. Phosphor-luminescent paint. Devices to make knocking noises—things like blocks of wood strapped to the knees. Tables moving with levers under the wrists. If I searched your pockets, would I find any of these things?”

“Certainly not.” Mary would have packed away the accoutrements and taken them with her. Violet’s valise, even if found and searched, would contain none of those things. More small blessings.

“The thing is, Mademoiselle, you’ve been accused, and we have to investigate. If we find nothing, well then.” He shrugged as if to say not my problem. “But I will warn you that Monsieur Lanier is poised to sue you and the Countess, um . . . Melikova . . . if you somehow wriggle away from the police.”

“Detective Bellec, I do not wriggle.”

“Maybe not, but . . .” Bellec leaned forward, his smile and nonchalant manner gone. “I dislike frauds, Mademoiselle. They prey on the gullible and take their money, same as a thief. Worse, because you coerce your mark to hand over the money willingly. You make people think you can talk to those dead and gone; you get inside their heads and play them for fools. A fraud is the worst kind of criminal, Mademoiselle. Even murderers are more straightforward.”

Violet stared at him, a chill in her heart, because she agreed with every word he said. She was a fraud, and she did take money from the gullible.

But she and her mother had to survive, and Celine truly believed in her abilities. The only fraud at heart was Violet.

Jacobi had shown Violet how to make a living using her mother’s eccentricities, and once she’d started, Violet hadn’t been able to stop. She was in a trap, no way out. She and her mother had no other means to live on, no place to go.

The detective rose and gathered his papers. “I’ll let you sit here awhile longer and think about all those fools you took money from. Money meant to feed their families, pay their rents, keep their children warm. Meanwhile, I will investigate. And if I find good proof of your fraud, you will go to court, and I will do my best to see that you pay to the full extent of the law.”

Bellec turned his back and walked out, no longer affable, his coldness sharp.

Violet, left alone, leaned her head back and tried to stop the tears that threatened to pour from her eyes. Bellec wasn’t going to let her go. Mary would have done her best to take the damning evidence away with her, but if she missed something, or she and Celine were caught . . .

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