The limo swung around and stopped at the front entrance. Two men servants popped out to open the limo doors, two more held the double doors of the mansion open. There were faces looking through all the well lit windows. And now two women rushing out to them.
Wives, acting concerned, and wondering if and how much their husbands have just inherited. Well, I've seem a lot of that before. Just . . . not on this scale.
The wives were all fluttery and "How is Lord Vladimir?" "Oh No! How Horrible!"
And the one hanging on Nikoli, with a bit more brain power than the other . . . "But who will be the executor? Who will run the Trust?"
Andre and Nikoli both looked around at Lord Axel.
"But, but . . ." the woman looked horrified.
Andre growled. "It appears that one of his stupid tricks involved lying a year off his age."
Nikoli nodded. "He very conveniently turned fifty just minutes before Father died."
Cousin Axel appeared to be indifferent to the four hostile glares.
"As it's only for three months, I'll involve the pair of you in every step of what needs to be done. So that you two will be taking over with full knowledge of . . . everything.
"Right now, Because of Lord Vladimir's prominence in our World's Leading historical Family, our society, and our government, his death will be fully investigated."
He waved down exclamations of dismay and outrage. "This is Senior Detective Vlad Gargarin. Answer his questions honestly and completely, yes even the dirty gossip, if he wants it.
"Tomorrow I'll be arranging an auditor, so the money side will also be investigated." Axel turned back to him. "What can we do for you?"
"Show me the dining room."
The wives looked poisonous when they heard about Lord Axel. All the servants looked dubious. Well, the family layabout is in charge, whether they like it or not.
Except he doesn't sound like a layabout.
Inside . . . as if he hadn't seen this in dozens of films . . . The Grand Hall ran front to back, all four above ground levels splitting the mansion in half.
The Founder built it this way on purpose. His home and the Colonial Governor' office on the right, the council hall and offices on the left.
The seat of government for a hundred years. Until they built the even bigger Council Hall because being the gateway to new worlds, we were no longer a worthless experimental world.
And now a gray-haired woman in an upper servants dress was stalking up to Cousin Axel. Pointing down the hall. "Will you please get them out of the way? We need to clean up!"
Lord Axel shook his head. "Don't worry, Anya, Your crew can clear and clean later, much later. Why don't you all go to bed. You've heard the news, everything else can wait."
Vlad stepped up and looked where the housekeeper had pointed.
Four youngsters sitting stubbornly in two doorways, blocking them.
Oh really? He walked down to the first doorway and looked in. A formal dining room. A long table that could easily sit two dozen people. Plates of food still on the table. On this end a heavy arm chair, laying on its side. A broken plate and food on the table.
"Well. I didn't expect this." He eyed the two boys. Bright-eyed and alert. They must not be chipped yet. Poor things.
Lord Axel walked up. Crooked a finger at the pair down the hall. "So, how soon did you lot block off the room?"
"Right after Lord Vladimir was carried down to the front parlor. Just in case there was a crime."
Good grief. That one's a girl!
"Did you enter the room or disturb anything?" Vlad eyed all four as they drew together. And looked to Lord Axel.
"This is Senior Detective Lord Vlad Gargarin. Answer his questions fully, honestly. In fact . . . I think you four should assist the Senior Detective. Watch how a real cop works instead of all the nonsense in those cheap mysteries that everyone around here seems to read."
He got four innocent looks.
"W-we sort of stood around f-for a bit, then wh-when the maids came to clear, Nast-tasya said they ought n-n-not, in case of p-poison." Hideous low class accent, under the stutter.
"Did any of you enter the room?"
The girl squirmed. "I went in and grabbed these chairs. No one was sitting in them or anywhere near them at dinner."
Vlad blinked. Looked at Lord Axel. "Are they training to be police?"
"Umm, no, but I have attempted to train them in observation, memory, and clear reporting."
"Would you prefer me to leave?"
"Sorry, but . . . yes."
Lord Axel flashed a smile. "No problem. I'll take a nap. Tomorrow's going to be busy."
Vlad watched him walk away, then pulled out his phone and ordered up a lab unit.
Eyed his four young assistants. "Lord Vladimir's death looks like a perfectly natural stroke. An aneurysm in his brain that burst. Because of his position in the Council, an investigation to rule out anything else will be useful in quieting down rumors and scandals."
He sighed. "And because Lord Andre and Lord Nikoli accused Lord Axel of murder in front of witnesses, so there will be a great deal of fuss."
They all looked indignant.
"However, since you've preserved the scene so well, we'll start by testing everything for poisons. Now, where was everyone sitting?"
All three boys looked at the girl. She blushed. "I . . . peeked in . . . several times. And listened. Up here at this door, because I could hear better."
Vlad just raised his brows.
"His Lordship was at the head of the table. Lord Andre on the far side, on his Lordship's right side. Lord Nikoli was on this side with his back to me. Lord Axel sat two chairs down from Nikoli."
She bit her lip. "Lady Anastasiya, Lord Andre's wife, sat three chairs down from her husband, and Lady Veronika sat next to her. His Lordship didn't like hearing all the ladies' chatter. Three of the children were at table. Do you want . . . Right. Ivan Nikoli is seven and sat next to his mother. Eduard Vladimir, aged six sat next to him, and then Evgenia, who is five. Those two are Anastasiya's and Andre's older children. There are four more, younger ones. Anyhow, they got bored after the soup and salad courses and started whining and their nannys took them away."
"Then they brought in the fish course. Nothing exciting happened, just His Lordship gripping about worthless relatives, and looking down the table at Lord Axel, who just ate and nodded. I think he answered once."
"Well, His Lordship said, quote. 'Worthless relatives ought to be tossed out of family homes to starve on the streets. What do you think, Axel?' and Lord Axel nodded and said, quote, 'Certainly. It would be good for their souls, if a bit hard on their bodies.' And Andre and Nikoli both snickered."
She glanced through the door. "Then they brought in the steaks. His Lordship was griping about someone on the Council and then I heard something break, like a dropped plate or something and I looked in as His Lordship's chair tipped and he . . . just laid there . . . "
A gulp. "Lord Andre was just gawping, and Nikoli sort of scooted his chair back. Lord Axel got to him first, he had his phone in his hand and was ordering an ambulance. He knelt down beside His Lordship and, and." Swallow. "Lord Axel, on the phone told someone that his uncle appeared to have had a stroke. Then he ordered Harro, the butler, to turn on all the exterior lights and get down to the street to flag down the ambulance."
A deep breath. "Then Axel suggested they move His Lordship to the couch in the front parlor, and Nikoli yelled about how Axel didn't give orders around here and he wasn't going to inherit anything.
"Then the ambulance arrived, and took him away. I was too far back to hear anything. Then Lord Axel came out of the parlor, ordering a cab. Then Andre ordered the big car to the front. The cab came first and . . . then I saw the maids heading for the dining room and I went and told them to not touch anything and that they ought to not even go into the room. And I called the guys to come help me keep the scene undisturbed."