They'd missed the opportunity. When the doormen whisked the doors open and intoned his title and name, the brothers turned away from their wives in unison.
Lord Andre frowned. "What? Are we back to an ordinary policeman, now? All the Imperials got pull out for that mess yesterday, so I thought we were rid of the lot of you."
Lord Nikoli stalked toward him. "It's nothing to do with us."
Vlad nodded. "Just finishing up a few details, then you can finally get on with funeral arrangements and so forth." At least the wives look happy to see them. And a maid innocently dusting in the background. "I need to get a few statements from the staff who served dinner, and I hope that will be all."
The lords' noses rose.
"Indeed?" Nikoli stepped up into his face. "I am certain you will find nothing. You need to finalize this ridiculous investigation and leave us to mourn." Leaning in . . .
Vlad braced himself against mental pressure. What the heck?
Andre looked around. "You! Girl! Stop stirring up the dust and take this policeman off to interview the maids."
Nastasya bobbed her head and scurried to the inner corridor, gesturing them to follow. "The stairs to the kitchen are down here . . ." She opened an unmarked door and clattered down to the landing. Stopped and looked back up as the door closed behind Forty-one.
She looked up at them, a frown creasing her forehead. "They showed up for dinner, wearing the same clothes they'd left in, but they'd been cleaned and pressed. Then they went up to their suites . . . I tried to listen in but they were pretty quiet."
"And then I helped serve at breakfast." She took a breath. "The Lords were harping at the ladies about slacking off and not teaching the children proper decorum and manners and had them all there. I mean, Vitoli's only eight months old! Of course he doesn't have good manners! Rosa and Maximilian are two, and they're picking it up fast, but they cried when they got yelled at and Vitoli started screaming and, and . . . I've never seen anything like it!"
Vlad scratched his chin. "Sounds like they got lectured on the proper place of Lords in a household."
"And applied it stupidly." Forty-one shook his head. "Even with a chip in his head, my father loved us all."
She took a deep breath. "And now the Ladies are all pleasent and dressed to show off, and well, praising them and . . . I think they're scared they'll get sold."
"That's a nasty thought." I know damn well what sort of person buys used wives . . . "I wouldn't think the Lords would go so far."
Nastasya wrinkled her nose. "I don't even know which one's my father! And I don't want to know! I used to wish I had red hair, but, really, I'm glad Lord Axel isn't like the rest of the family."
Vlad eyed her. Yes, could be either twin, or the old Lord. He blinked and suppressed a smile as he realized that her three buddies and Axel were all close relatives, and . . . that he'd better get his mind off her big blue eyes and other extremely attractive assets, and back on the job.
"I never did hear how you four got exec plates."
"Oh, I, ahem, overheard Lord Axel in Mr. Solovsky's office, 'Oh a fiftieth birthday present? They need executive secretaries.' And Mr. Slobo . . . Solovsky said they were too expensive and who knows what mental compulsions and loyalities had been applied. Axel said but if you train them youselves it's only thirty thousand, and here's these four kids coming up on eighteen . . . He insulted Pauli, said Barf and Dimiyri would be good, but this girl His Lordship ought to send for testing, the government might want her for a spy."
Forty-one snickered. "He was right about that. But Pauli also got an exec plate?"
Nastasya snickered. "Yep. Mr. Solovsky said he hoped Axel wasn't expecting such a gift, and Axel said only if his Dear Uncle thought giving him Pauli was amusing. Actually he said inflicting. And it worked. Except for wanting me to be his spy . . . which kind of makes one think, now, doesn't it?"
"I suspect you'd have been entertaining a lot of his foreign partners."
"Ewww!" She shuddered. "So, who do you want to talk to?"
"I haven't a clue. Or rather, you'll do nicely. How many secret, or hidden doors are there around here? Who knows about them, and how do you recognize them? Could anyone who knew about them spy on Lord Vladimir?" He raised his brows at her.
Vehiment head shake. "No. Lord Axel told me to never . . . but I already wouldn't . . . I know what he does to maids that annoy him . . . I . . . No. Never." Her voice had gotten a bit high and squeaky.
Vlad softened his voice. "What happened?"
She blinked, frowned. "Nothing? I . . . I didn't have a problem a few days ago, going over there. I totally forgot the terror I had always had at the very thought . . . And people did disappear. Was there a fear spell laid on it over there? That faded when His Lordship died?" She frowned up at him. "So why am I scared all over again?"
"I hope the Imperial types are just making sure everyone stays out of there . . . Do you know where Lord Axel is?"
"Not here." Now she grinned impishly. "He couldn't possibly be busy up on top, now could he?"
Vlad sighed. "Personally, I prefer my heroes to stay in their books where they belong. Speaking of whom, maybe he put a new spell up to keep people like you and me from bumbling aound and finding things."
Forty-one gave him a fishy look.
She bit her lip. "Well, who or what would you like to see?"
"How about a tour. We could start in the basement and work up."
The basement had high windows at ground level, and sank another twelve feet down, pierced periodically with concrete colums that he'd bet had a steel core. From the gleaming comercial-sized kitchen and industrial laundry on the east side to an echoing empty gynasium on the west, it completely reversed the ancient style of the upper floors.
They skipped two floors and started with the east end of the third.
"Everyone calls it 'Lord Mitchel's apartement.' The whole end, both corners and the rooms in between were opened up to the outer corridor for the light." Nastasya squirmed a bit. "I only just checked it out after the Imperials made Axel 'unlock' it. Everyone else used to get sarcastic about him being so nostaligic or was it clingy, and wasn't he over losing his parents yet? And he'd just grin and a say 'What, you need my help to undo a Mentalist Lock?' And then they couldn't ask for help. I was just a kid, and thought it was wonderfully funny. They've ignored it for years."
A living room in the north east corner, had a large ornate door out to a wide flight of mahagony stairs. Dustcovers on all the furniture. It was open to the next room with a small dining table, then down the inner racetrack past a large office, a large library, a large bedroom, two empty rooms, and a huge corner suite, and around the corner, a very femine looking parlor and a door in the wall built to close off the inner hall on this side of the building.
"I never heard about other children."
She shook her head. "The Lady Doctor was very old when they married and had Axel a year later. At least, that's what everyone says. And Lord Michail was over a hundred and he'd had Rejuv, so everyone got snotty about the baby not really being his until the genescans came back. Then they had to shut up."
"And they're still snotty because his mother was half-Native?"