The B&B Affair
The little coupe pulled into town as the sun was approaching its zenith. The tires rumbled over the cobblestones as the vehicle came to a stop in front of their destination.
"Here you are, Napoleon. 'Haem an' Hearth." The building had a comfortable feel to it, white with neat brightly painted shutters on every window. Flowers surrounded the house. Ivy and morning glories clustered around the front door and a bench waited for its next guest. "So we are here." Illya paused for effect. "So, why are we here, Napoleon?"
For a long moment, there was nary a sound from the other side of the car, although Illya knew Napoleon was awake. It was the sort of thing partners instinctively knew about the other... usually.
"We had some free time and I thought it might be nice to see Scotland, any place really, without someone shooting at us. You know, a little 'us' time."
"Sounds nice, although the last time we tried this, your former lover found you and dragged us into that little affair in Terbuf."
"Not to fear, I have no ex fiancées, girlfriends, or even a casual acquaintance here."
That brought a smile to Napoleon's lips. "Yet." He inclined his head in Illya's direction. "Sometimes, I think you know me too well."
They climbed from the car and Illya tilted his head back. A breeze blew the hair off his forehead and his brow smoothed. He took a deep breath and said, "We are close to the sea."
"Aye, it's just over the ridge."
Both men glanced in the direction of the voice and immediately Napoleon grinned. The speaker was a woman, her age somewhere between indeterminate and impossible to say. She was carrying a basket of freshly laundered sheets. Her hair was piled up on her head, but a stray lock danced in the breeze.
"Hello, and who might you two be?" She set the basket down and brushed the wrinkles from her crisp blue trimmed apron. Her cheeks were red from the sun and wind and her teeth shone brilliant white as she smiled.
"Solo and Kuryakin, we have reservations."
"Och, and sure, you dae. Go on in, and my daughter will see tae ye."
"I don't need a translation," Napoleon quickly headed his partner off at the pass. He gestured to the door and Illya worked the wrought iron door catch to step through into a neat, pine-trimmed room. There was a sense of comfortable mayhem to the room. Chairs were scattered around and held a variety of colorful pillows and throws. An inviting-looking sofa beckoned to the weary travelers to come and rest for a few minutes. Through a doorway, Illya caught a glimpse of its tables and chairs, patiently waiting for its diners.
Illya walked up to a broad counter and waited for the woman behind it to turn. She spun, gasped, and clasped a hand to her ample chest.
"Sorry, we didn't mean to scare you." Napoleon spoke slowly, just in case this was another local.
"I can assure you, young man, a start, but not a fright." She held out a work worn hand. "Mark told me we were to expect you. I'm Mrs. Sloan."
"Slate; he's my nephew. I do believe that he was the one who recommended my inn to you."
"He was," Napoleon said, taking her hand. "Oxford?"
"Cambridge. You must be Napoleon. Mark told me you were quite the charmer." She turned her eyes to Illya. "And you must be Illya. Mark has told me some tall tales about you two."
"All true, I assure you." Napoleon watched as Illya offered her a crisp bow.
"Welcome to Haem an' Hearth. I hope you will be comfortable here. Let me show you both to your room and then I would imagine you'd appreciate a bit of elevenses."
"That would be lovely, thank you. I know Illya would appreciate it. He's just barely holding on to body and soul. It's been three hours since his last meal."
"Mr. Solo, you are bad." Mrs. Sloan laughed and came around the counter. "So tell, me, how is that rogue nephew of mine doing?"
"He's well," Napoleon answered quickly. The man was on assignment, so his guess was as good as any. Still, Waverly would have contacted them if they had a man down.
"Tell me, when are there going to be church bells for him and his girlfriend?"
"Girlfriend?" Napoleon shot a look at Illya, who merely hunched his shoulders.
"Yes, they were here a few months ago. Dark hair, darker eyes... she had a month name... June?"
"That's it! Mark kept telling me they were just friends, but a woman knows these things."
"As far as I know, ma'am, they haven't planned anything yet."
"Oh, Mr. Solo, careful now. Mark warned me about you. Follow me, please. I will have Daniel fetch your bags up."
She led the way up the narrow staircase and Napoleon followed at a discreet distance while Illya paused to study the décor a bit further. Some of the pieces were most certainly from Victorian times and yet others were much more recent. The paintings ranged from romantic to realism, from pastoral to portraits. Over the mantelpiece there hung a large oil painting of a multi-mast sailing vessel. Something shiny caught and held the sunlight for a moment, but the moment Illya tried to focus upon it, it was gone.
"You've noticed my rather eclectic tastes, Mr. Kuryakin?" Mrs. Sloan had retraced her footsteps and found him.
"I would prefer to think it more of personal taste than eccentricity. For instance, that fainting couch in the corner tells me that you are a woman who knows the past and can embrace it without fear, yet the introduction of the more recent chaise across from it, tells me that you enjoy comfort as opposed to stiff adherence to tradition." Illya indicated the painting. "That caught my eye."
"Yes, it has a way of doing that. It was a recent gift from one of our frequent guests, Mrs. Martha Slaten-George of the Sussex Georges. I don't much fancy it, but she is a very good friend and I do appreciate her effort. She was here just a few weeks ago and I haven't taken it back down yet." Mrs. Sloan paused and laughed. "How she fussed over it the last time she was here. She fiddled and adjusted it just so! She called it, The Resting Place—an odd name until I saw it was the ship's name. We lost one just like it out in our harbor and she painted this as a tribute to it. Her great uncle sailed on it."
"It sparkled for just a moment."
"Yes, it has a way of doing that. Your room is just over here." She laughed and stopped before a door where Napoleon was waiting. "I hope that you will find it comfortable. Mark told me that you two were on a bit of a coachman's holiday and preferred to share one room due to cost."
"Well, we... ah... appreciate that, don't we, Illya?"
"Very much, especially since I'm the one who seems to be the one paying for everything," Illya muttered.
She pushed opened the door and stepped aside so that they could precede her in. "The bathroom is right through there. This is one of the few rooms with its own private bath. It's Mrs. George's favorite."
"A painter. You'd like her work, Napoleon. It's very nautical."
Ms. Sloan laughed and held the key out and Napoleon took it, slipping it into the pocket of his jacket.
"When you two are ready, just come along to the dining room. We'll be serving Elevenses in just a tick. Dinner is at one, tea at four and supper is at eight. You needn't dress, but I do like my gents in a jacket. I will see you in a few minutes then."
Napoleon smiled at Illya, who smirked, but otherwise remained silent as Mrs. Sloan left them.
The room was open and airy. The wind blew the curtains and the white fabric danced merrily in the breeze. There was a double bed just to the right of one window and a twin bed was tucked neatly in the corner alcove, the angle of the ceiling above it indicated the roofline.
There was a couch with its own assortment of pillows and throws. Two chairs shared a small table set in front of a second window. There was a roll-top writing desk opposite it. One widow offered a view of the ocean while the other opened to the rolling hills of the countryside. Everywhere they looked was either blue or green. Small white clouds dotted the sky and white sheep imitated them against the rolling hills.
"Illya, look at this." Napoleon stood before the window and waited for the Russian to join him. Illya came to stand beside him, pushing aside the white eyelet curtain for a better view.
"Beautiful and serene," Illya murmured. Then he smiled as Napoleon's arms slipped around his waist and pulled Illya back against him. "Is this safe?"
"Is anything about our lives ever safe?" Napoleon's fingers splayed wide, drawing Illya closer until he could feel Napoleon's chest rising and falling with each of his breaths.
Then Napoleon kissed the nape of Illya's neck and nuzzled his lips against the blond hair. For one moment, the world paused, its collective breath held as a two spirits entwined to become one. "Hungry?"
"For you? Always." Illya's response was soft.
There was a sharp knock at the door and Napoleon released Illya with a murmured sigh. "So much for that thought. Just a moment, please." Napoleon opened the door and permitted a young man's entrance. Illya took that moment to loosen his tie and toss it upon the bed.
"Your luggage, sir... um, sirs." He pointedly kept his attention focused to the ground as he carried the luggage past them. Apparently he wasn't as fooled by Mark's cover story as Mrs. Sloan was.
"Just over there will be fine." Napoleon gestured as he walked to the double bed and crossed his leg, hiding his erection from sight.
The man wrestled one suitcase up onto a small chest. He set the other just to one side of it. Napoleon noted, with approval, that his was the one on the chest. Then he patted his jacket pocket. "Ah, Illya...?"
Illya dug into his pocket for some money and passed it over. The young man smiled and nodded his thanks before quickly leaving. "How do they always know which one is yours?" Illya asked as he watched Napoleon.
"Mine's in better repair. You really should buy a new suitcase, you know."
"There's nothing wrong with this one." Illya chose to overlook the battered, frayed edges. Like him, it had been through a lot and he felt a kindred spirit for it.
"I can't say that about the bed." Napoleon gave a bounce. "The mattress is sort of lumpy."
"So take the other bed. I'll sleep with the lumps; I'm used to it." Illya closed the door and glanced over at his partner. "I even name them. The biggest one is called Napoleon, after someone I know."
"Nice. You ready to go down and have something to eat?"
"I'll meet you. I want to change out of this suit. I've been in it for three days now."
"I could help you." Napoleon's voice smoothed out, silk on satin. "It might save time."
"You do and they will be serving us little dried-up hockey pucks." Illya began to unbutton his shirt. "Go and I will be right along."
Napoleon entered the small dining room and took measure of it before going any further. By habit, he noted the placement of the windows, the doors, and any impediment should a quick escape be required. Then he mentally chastised himself. They were on vacation and there wasn't a THRUSH within miles of here... he hoped. It was time to relax and breathe.
There was a small piano to his left and he plunked a couple of keys. The resulting noise was muffled, as if something was obstructing the keys. Napoleon grimaced and selected a table that afforded a nice view of the town and was set back just a bit from any windows. He was on vacation, but he wasn't any less wary. Napoleon undid the button to his suit jacket and sat. He couldn't take it off for he still wore his shoulder holster, but the room wasn't overly warm and it didn't represent a burden to him.
"Welcome to the Haem an' Hearth. I ain't seen ye before." The speaker was a young woman. She was rosy-cheeked and was pleasantly plump in all the right places. She was just the sort of woman Napoleon was partial to... when he was partial to the weaker sex. That hadn't been for quite some time now.
"We just arrived, thank you, Miss—?"
"Och, just call me Bonnie. We are a very informal lot here. Would you like coffee?"
"Yes, although I believe my partner would prefer tea. He'll be down in a moment."
"Black or white?"
"Um, black coffee and white tea." Napoleon had never seen tea served with milk or cream before he met Illya, but the Russian was partial to it. Napoleon chalked it up to Illya's time in England as it was a popular method there. Napoleon watched Bonnie walk away, her hips moving like a gentle samba. He picked up a napkin. It was linen with delicate needlework around the edges. It had the soft feel of something much laundered, yet it was stain free. It gave him a sense of comfort and grace. He traced the design with a finger, marveling at the embroidery. He and Illya did what they had to so the world could have their embroidered napkins.
"There you are then. Is your room to your liking?" Mrs. Sloan had appeared with a three-tier plate. On the bottom were neatly-made sandwiches, their crusts carefully removed. The next plate held golden brown scones and the top was reserved for dainty petit fours, each one decorated with a crystallized flower. "I hope this will hold you over until dinner."
"And then some," Napoleon said, resisting the urge to smack his lips. Even though they'd stopped for coffee and dense sticky rolls earlier in the morning, the sea air and their earlier altercation had left him ravenous.
Bonnie reappeared carrying a pot of hot water with a hot pad and two cups. The pot she placed carefully off to one side and then set down the cups. One was filled with a dark liquid, the aroma shooting straight to Napoleon's very appreciative nose. The other cup was empty. The hot pad Bonnie flipped open and tucked the tea cozy around the pot.
"There, that will keep it warm for him."
She disappeared a second time only to reappear with a tray holding everything else they would need to conduct their feast, plates, silverware, sugar and cream.
Napoleon lifted his cup to his nose and inhaled happily. He brought it to his lips and sipped carefully, smiling as the hot liquid trickled down his throat. "Oh, my, yes..."
"Do you two need a moment?" Illya asked from behind him and Mrs. Sloan nodded her approval.
"My word, Mr. Kuryakin, you do clean up well. A girl finds you wandering the moors and she'd think she'd died and gone straight to heaven."
Illya had exchanged his usual black suit for a pair of well cut beige pants and a loose, tunic-like shirt, tucking in at the waist. With its billowing sleeves and just the hint of chest hair peaking through to open neck of the shirt, he looked as if he was right off the cover of a romance novel.
"I'll second that, Illya. I didn't know you had it in you." Napoleon tried to keep the gloat out of his voice, but to Illya it promised a time later when Napoleon would show Illya just how appreciative he was of the outfit.
"But yer are skin and bones. Eat!" Bonnie poured him some tea and Illya nodded his thanks.
"You'll be sorry you told him that." As she strolled away, Napoleon watched, and then sighed softly. "Just call her Bonnie. They are informal here."
"I see." Illya's response made Napoleon's head jerk in the Russian's direction, but he'd already started paying attention to the scones, splitting one and spooning a generous dollop of thick clotted cream onto it. Over that, he spooned homemade strawberry jam.
Illya bit into the scone, eyes closed in pleasure as he chewed, heedless, for a moment, of the cream and jam that oozed over the side and down his chin. Then he licked his lips and wiped his mouth with his napkin.
Briefly, Napoleon thought to chastise him, but it just looked so good, that a moment later he'd joined his partner in culinary bliss.
"I wasn't flirting, you know."
They'd been walking for an hour in near silence, just letting the sights and sounds of the countryside take the need for conversation away from them until Napoleon couldn't stand the silence any longer.
"Of course you were, Napoleon." Illya stood on the crest of a hill overlooking the sea. "It's in your blood, probably even in your DNA." The wind ruffled through his blond hair in a way that Napoleon longed to. "I would never hold that against you."
"Does it ever make you crazy?" Napoleon said after a moment.
"Your flirting? No, I became accustomed to that a long time ago."
"No, I mean, not being able to... touch in public."
Illya turned to study Napoleon. "What do you mean, we touch constantly in public."
"But never intimately."
A small smile ran across Illya's lips. "There are some things best left to be cherished in private."
"I know, Napoleon, but it is as it is. Neither of us can change that, so we must live within the predetermined parameters or not." Illya sighed. "It does not, however, mean that I like it any better than you." Illya returned his attention to the view and breathed deeply.
Napoleon thought to pursue it, but knew that he, like Illya, had to admit defeat over the issue. He tilted his head back to watch the clouds race by. They were in such a hurry this afternoon. "It's really beautiful here... and peaceful. I know why Mark suggested it now."
"It is." Illya glanced over at a small grouping of trees, nestled down in the bosom of the dale. "If you would excuse me for a moment?"
Napoleon followed Illya's gaze and understood. There had been many cups of tea enjoyed and a man's bladder was only so big.
"I'll be right here when you get back."
Illya was zipping up his fly when he heard the voice, so close he thought it was right behind him.
"Finally, I didn't think you were going to show up."
"You know how the old bat is. Do this and then do that! She never gets tired of hearing her own voice, that one."
The second voice, that of a woman, sounded vaguely familiar, but the first was a mystery beyond that it was a gruff-sounding male. Illya froze in place, not daring to move.
"Is the deed done?" the female spoke again.
"I thrashed her soundly, but she died, nary uttering a word about where she hid the stone. I went through the house, tore it apart top to bottom. She must have hidden it at the inn."
"Clever old weasel. I've been over the whole place and dinna find it. Even a rock that size could be hidden almost anywhere. Clever, clever girl."
"You've been through all the rooms?"
"Aye, stripped them bare. Told the Missus it was spring cleaning. All except for the front one, but it has those two Yanks in it at the moment. We'll have tae wait until they leave."
"What about the common rooms?"
"She was never in one long enough to do much of anything. Leave them to me. I'll take care of it."
"What if they find it? Or someone else? What if the old lady finds it?"
"Why would anyone be looking for it, Percy? No one even knows she's dead." There was a long pause and Illya held his breath. "You ain't gone shooting off yer mouth again at the pub?"
"Course not. I can handle my drink. I've been thinkin', you know them Yanks?"
"How long will they be?"
"A fortnight, according to the register."
"I can't wait a fortnight, me girl. I need the money now."
"I know. So this is what we'll do. Tonight, I'll get them to the pub. While you entertain them, I'll have a good look through the room. Neither of them looks as if they can handle a stiff pint. If things are a bit mussed next morning, they'll blame it on the drink."
"Then tonight, lass."
Illya remained standing quietly for several minutes. He'd been gone so long that he was sure Napoleon was going to come looking for him. Finally, assured that he was again alone, he broke cover and headed back up the hill to where Napoleon was sitting on a boulder, waiting.
"Finally the wandering boy returns! Did you have a zipper malfunction? Or find someone you'd rather tarry with?"
"Like that could ever happen. Actually I overhead a confession to murder and the start of a treasure hunt." Illya slid to the ground and rested his back against the boulder.
"You are joking." A crow cawed in the distant as Napoleon waved an insect away from his face. "Tell me you're joking? Please?"
Quickly, Illya reiterated the conversation he'd heard. At the end of it, Napoleon blew a soundless whistle. "I have to hand it to you, Kuryakin. Life is never dull with you around."
"I'm on vacation. I was looking forward to a little boredom."
"Not this time, my friend."
"So, course of action?
Napoleon pursed his lips and shook his head. "I don't know, but for starters, we can't let them go through that room before we have a chance. How's your head?"
"What? My head's fine, why?"
Napoleon rubbed his hands together. "I think that perhaps that headache you had this morning is going to come back with a vengeance this evening. I think that perhaps it is so bad that you are going to take to bed tonight."
"And miss dinner?" Illya was aghast.
Napoleon stood up and offered a hand up. "I'll make sure and bring you up a tray." Illya took the hand and stood up, pausing to brush the seat of his pants clean of dirt and dried grass. "You, um, need some help?"
"No, thanks." They started back down the hill, each taking care of their footing. Suddenly, Illya twisted around to address his partner. "I'm not some eighteenth century female who becomes struck down with a sick headache or a case of vapors, Napoleon. That might work for one night, but certainly it is not a long term solution."
"I know you are champing at the bit to show your drinking prowess against the locals "
"Never underestimate locals. This is where I learned to drink." They neared the bottom of the hill and Napoleon gave Illya a push that nearly knocked him off his feet. "Hey, there was no call for that."
"There is if you are going to fall and hurt your ankle."
"What? Oh, I see." Illya looked around for any observers and then knelt to scoop up a handful of detritus. He brushed every place he could reach with the dirt and leaves. Napoleon helped out with the rest, finishing with a generous helping of grass onto Illya's head. The Russian grimaced. "Do you mind?"
"Not in the least." He grinned, obviously pleased with the result. "Now you look like you've taken a tumble." Slipped an arm around Illya's waist, he waited for Illya's arm over his shoulders before taking a step. He paused as Illya pulled away slightly.
"So what happens when she shows up and finds me there?"
"You'll think of something." Napoleon tugged him close. "And now we need to move while I'm still capable of walking. Having you this close is a bit... distracting."
"Be glad I'm not a woman, for then you would have swept me up in your arms while I swooned." They took a step together and Napoleon snickered. "What?"
"I was imagining you in a long dress, with flowing hair and... ouch!" Illya's fingers had dug into his side. "No abusing your dashing hero," he advised as they neared the cottage.
"This is payback for the thing in the car, isn't it?"
"You have no idea." The door opened and Mrs. Sloan was before them, her hands fluttering in the air like two spastic butterflies.
"My word, what happened?"
"Just lost my footing and took a header." Illya winced as they moved. One thing he knew how to play at was being injured. He'd had too much practice in this one particular field not to put up a convincing front.
"Oh, come in and sit down. I'll call the doctor."
"No doctor," Illya objected quickly and then stopped at her surprised expression. "I don't get along well with them. It's just a slight twist. It'll be fine by tomorrow."
"Providing that you take the weight off it tonight," Napoleon said. "I'm just going to help him up to our room..."
"I could make up one of the couches, if that would be easier."
"No, I think I can manage." Illya pulled free of Napoleon and reached for the banister. Napoleon switched sides and grabbed up Illya's free arm.
"Let me help."
"My hero," Illya muttered as they started up the stairs.
"You have no idea..."
Illya shifted in bed and grimaced. Napoleon had been right about the lumps in the mattress. They seemed to follow him to whatever spot he picked. Illya glanced over at the tray that Mrs. Sloan's had brought him up just before they struck out for the pub.
Somewhere, Napoleon was laughing and drinking with the locals while he languished in bed with a book and a pot of tea. Although he had to admit dinner had been very good and Napoleon had brought up his own dinner to eat with him. It just wasn't the best situation for what Illya had envisioned for this holiday. He smiled tightly. Then and again, they never were it seemed.
Illya's bladder grumbled and he sighed. At least he didn't have to walk down the hall and use the common toilet. He tossed the covers aside and headed from the bathroom.
He was sitting there, contemplating a hot bath when he heard a whisper of noise. He lunged for the light switch, clicking it off as fast as he could.
"Bloody yanks." He recognized the voice of the female from the afternoon. "Look at the mess... and only one bed. Lord, they're batty."
It took Illya a moment to remember that the word betty didn't mean the same on this side of the pond as it did the other. That little secret of their relationship was out of the bag, even without their direct participation.
For a moment, he listened to the noise of things being searched and then there was a loud gasp. Illya closed his eyes and realized she'd probably found either his or Napoleon's weapons—not a good turn of events.
Illya glanced down at his pajama bottoms. There was nowhere he could even pretend to be hiding a weapon... that's when it hit him. It wasn't as if he'd not used seduction in the past to get what he needed. He was certain he could drum up enough interest to show her he was serious. Squaring his jaw, he stepped from the bathroom and stopped.
The girl, Bonnie, let out a little yip of surprise and spun. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm a registered guest and this is my room."
"With your boyfriend!" she sputtered.
"Hardly." Illya made a great show of hobbling back to the bed. "I twisted my ankle and had to stay in. My... boyfriend, as you so mistakenly refer to Napoleon as, is at the pub with Mrs. Sloan. She received some shocking news this afternoon. Apparently a frequent guest of this establishment was found beaten to death. She needed something to bolster her spirits, so Napoleon offered her his arm and shoulder to cry upon. He's very good with women, you see."
"And left you here, crippled and alone."
"As a matter of record..." Illya turned back to her and stopped. The Walther was pointed at him. This close and he wouldn't stand a chance of eluding a bullet. "You were the one with Percy this afternoon."
Bonnie's mouth dropped open. "How did ye...?"
"I was in the bushes." He looked around the room and smiled. "What do you think Napoleon is celebrating this evening? I shared my story with him and we went through the room. You were very smart. It's a shame you paired up with an idiot."
"He's not... well, he is, but he's my idiot and ye had no right." The door to the hallway crept open and Napoleon's face appeared briefly in the light.
Illya carefully kept any signs of it from his face. "And you do? You are the one holding the gun on me and Napoleon knows what you were planning. If I'm found dead, he is smart enough to put two and two together. I, on the other hand, do not have an idiot for a partner."
"Having a gun here is illegal." She shook the weapon in his direction.
"Not if you have a license and are a member of an international enforcement agency."
"And you know how to use it properly," Napoleon said and Bonnie gasped, turning in his direction. That was enough for Illya to take a tackling dive at the woman. The impact took her to the floor and Illya quickly straddled her and grabbed her hand, forcing the weapon out of it.
"Never play with a weapon unless you intend to use it," Napoleon advised as the woman twisted and squirmed beneath Illya's weight. "Are you having fun there, partner?"
"Well I had thought to seduce her, but either way—"
"You end up on top?"
"It's my second favorite position." Illya stood and hauled the woman up. "You brought backup?"
Napoleon stepped aside and the local constable entered, the same one who had stopped them on the road.
"Och, Bonnie, yer a caile. None of your acain nowt."
"You speak English?" Illya asked, passing the woman over.
"Near enough," Napoleon muttered. "He certainly understood me when I mentioned murder."
"Aye, dóthain tá a fhios sin agam coir."
"Enough to know a crime when he hears it," Illya translated and the constable nodded.
He dragged the woman away, muttering in her ear the whole time. Napoleon came to stand beside Illya.
"How's the ankle?"
"Never better. How was the pub?"
"You should have warned me about the whiskey here."
"I've no experience with the whiskey here. I always stick to the Guinness. It give me less of a head the next day."
"I got to thinking while I was there. The thought was that the diamond—"
"You narrowed it down?"
"Percy was a tower of knowledge once he realized I and our good friend were on to him. Anyhow, the stone is supposedly in this room and I think I know right where it is." Napoleon pointed to the bed. "Mrs. Sloan said that Mrs. Slaten-George never complained about lumps in the mattress."
"Mrs. Slaten-George must have brought an entire diamond mine with her then. The entire mattress is bad."
"Having just spent five hours on it, yes." Illya looked with regret back to the bed. "We could try turning the mattress though. That might help."
"Then the diamond?"
"Downstairs, on display for all of the world to see—The Resting Place."
"I don't follow you... wait, you mean she..?"
"Ground up the diamond and mixed it with her paints."
"Why? Was she crazy?"
"No, she was a woman in fear," Mrs. Sloan spoke from the doorway. "Martha hated that diamond, as she did all her gems. She saw them as nothing more than pretty rocks, but by the terms of her late husband's will, she couldn't sell them without losing the house, the lands, and all the wealth that goes along with it. Her husband's family was keen on pruning her from the family tree and kept an eagle eye on her, insisting that she travel with them and then not being very particular about who they told."
"Bastards," Illya murmured. "Typical capitalistic reaction—if you can't possess the wealth yourself, make sure no one else can either."
"Illya has a point."
Mrs. Sloan dropped her eyes to the carpet, scuffing the nap up with the toe of one sensible shoe. "That's what Mark said when I spoke to him on this matter. He said if anyone could make this right, you two could."
"What? Mark set us up?" Napoleon shook his head slowly. "Just when you think you know people."
"To be fair, Mark didn't know about Martha's murder. He thought you might be able to relieve Martha of her burden but it's too late now. She was desperate to get rid of them."
"You were both very adept at your deducing. Mr. Kuryakin surmised correctly that she did grind up the diamond and paint with it. As for the rest, they are as Mr. Solo said." Mrs. Sloan crossed the floor and hefted up on edge of the mattress. The jewels scattered there caught and reflected the light back. "The solution to your lumpy mattress is merely to remove a few hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of jewels."
"What will you do now?" Napoleon's voice was calm and gentle.
"Return them to Martha's family in due time." She smiled sadly. "The painting, however, I think I shall keep as a memento of a truly inventive friend." She looked from one to the other. "I'm sure you will agree that we can all use at least one of them in our lives."
Illya opened his eyes slowly as a trickle of sweat dribbled its way from his brow to his ear. He didn't bother to wipe it away. A post-coital sense of wellbeing seeped through his limbs, making them and his head feel heavy. "That was incredible, Napoleon. Probably one of your best to date."
"I hope I haven't peaked too early in my career." Napoleon plopped back onto his own side of the bed and was enjoying his own lassitude.
They'd moved from the front bedroom to one of the more private rooms at the back of the lodge. Not being over the dining room gave them a bit more freedom to explore other aspects of their relationship best kept behind closed doors for the moment. It lacked the lavishness and brightness of the front room, but its bed was comfortable, the walls thick, and the mood much more attuned to their sensibilities. It also had its own cupboard-size toilet and sink. They had to use a communal shower, but that was no trouble.
"No chance of that. Give me a minute to catch my breath and then we'll talk about peaking."
"I think I can do that." Napoleon rolled off the bed and carefully collected up the hand towel. He'd rinse it out in the morning. For now, he carried it to the bathroom and set it on the side of the sink. "I'm going to go open up the window and let a bit of a breeze in." They'd closed them earlier to assure utmost privacy.
"Fine with me." Illya's voice was getting softer by the minute and Napoleon knew mere seconds stood between consciousness and sleep for his lover. That made Napoleon smile contentedly. He still had it.
Napoleon walked to the window, pushed the heavy curtains aside, and lifted up the bottom pane a couple of inches. It moved smoothly and let a wisp of cool night air in. The breeze caught and dried the sweat on Napoleon's stomach and he shivered, almost in delight. Then he stopped and stared out the window, mouth slightly ajar. He looked away and then back. It looked like... but that would be impossible.
"Illya?" he asked after a long moment.
"Do you believe in ghosts?"
Napoleon let the curtain fall back into place, blocking out the sight of a large, colorless ship sailing across the field. "Neither do I." And he hurried back to bed.
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