"it's time," said olivia.
tania was still looking into the background of the picture,
olivia smiled up at her. "monsieur le duc is a patient man but he doesn't have all the time in the universe. come on, you can look at the picture later."
tania took her gaze away from the picture. the big robot had fallen asleep in his chair beside the door. it was very quiet in the opulently furnished room.
olivia turned the knob on the heavy door and it opened easily and noiselessly. she led tania down a corridor to the left and opened another door. tania followed her inside.
the room was a simply furnished office with a desk, a chair in front of the desk and another smaller chair by the wall. olivia took the smaller chair and motioned to tania to take the one in front of the desk.
tania's eye fell on the single picture on the wall behind the desk. it was the same size as the one in the bedroom and she realized they must be positioned so as to be back to back with the wall between them.
the man behind the desk coughed politely and, slightly flustered, tania turned her attention to him. it was the duc d'otrante, sub-coordinator of all police, and as such, no inconsiderable personage. he was rumored to be the most powerful human male in the universe.
the duc smiled politely at tania. "i apologize, detective, for the rough and unorthodox methods used to bring you here. when i explain myself, you may forgive me. then again, you may not. "
tania's eyes drifted back to the picture.
from her chair by the wall, olivia started to laugh. "she's looking at the picture, not listening to you. she's still on drugs! my fault, i gave her too much. "
'no, no," said the duc, "better to give her a little too much and get her here, than too little. would you like to come closer and look at it?" he asked tania. he turned to look at the picture himself. "there really isn't much to it."
the picture showed the same raft as the other. but it was empty. the storm had passed. a half moon shone dimly through fog and mist. waves splashed over the raft and a few fish jumped in the water around it.
"what happened to the people?" asked tania.
"you are the cause of it all!" miss nancy nehru pointed an accusing finger at miss whitworthington.
"please," miss whitworthington drawled. "this is hardly the time for extra dramatics, shouldn't we be making for the lifeboats - excuse me, the excellent raft provided by the captain and his gallant crew?"
"yes, ladies," added the steward nervously. "you can continue your discussion on the raft."
"it must be admitted," interjected miss hyacinth hardy, "the raft seems an excellent venue for a summing up and an accusation."
"we can only hope it won't be too cold and windy to savor the moment," observed le duc de scaramouche-st giles.
"it's a long story," the duc d'otrante told tania. "and a somewhat ambiguous one."
"oh," said tania. "i don't care for ambiguous stories."
"nor do i," the duc replied. "in that case, why don't we proceed to the matter at hand?"
tania rubbed her eyes. "of course. i'm sorry. i'm still a little confused."
"quite understandable. we brought you here because of your involvement in the celebrated fairweather poker game case. you are involved in the fairweather poker game case, are you not?"
tania hesitated, she rubbed her eyes again. "i am assigned to it, yes. a number of detectives in different departments have been assigned to it."
"but you are assigned to it now."
"yes, with larry. with detective lyndon."
"under the supervision of the estimable jeanne d'arc."
"yes." tania looked at the duc suspiciously.
"and she, in turn, reports to charlotte corday."
"of course. you must know all this."
"you sound a bit hostile."
"i'm just confused by all this."
"what do you know about the darwinists?"
"i thought they abducted me. but now i know better."
"do you? perhaps they tried, and olivia and her friends just happened to be there to thwart them."
"but you just said - "
"you said you used rough methods to bring me here."
"she's waking up," said olivia.
the duc smiled, and tapped the tips of his fingers together. "you and your partner made an emergency landing in a neighborhood known to be rife with darwinists. do you dispute this?"
"it wasn't exactly an emergency. but larry decided to land anyway."
"so it was detective lyndon's fault. does charlotte corday trust detective lyndon?"
"of course. would he be working for her if she didn't?"
"perhaps we could rephrase that and say she trusts him as much as she trusts anybody?"
tania hesitated. "she wouldn't keep him on if she didn't trust him."
"well, detective lyndon is not our concern here. he is probably having his hands fitted for a hammer on jupiter even as we speak."
tania stared blankly at the duc, who went on. "he was present at your disappearance, and will automatically be assumed to be complicit. you yourself, of course, will face the possibility of severe disciplinary action for allowing yourself to be abducted."
"i understand that."
"so you need all the friends you can get," put in olivia.
the duc held up his hand. "please, olivia, that was uncalled for." to tania he said, "let me return to my earlier question. what do you know about darwinism? in general."
"it's just some religion."
"do you know the difference between charles darwinism and erasmus darwinism?"
"no. i'm in unspeakable crimes, not religious containment or supervision."
"so you don't have to concern yourself with such things."
"i didn't think i did."
the duc leaned forward and tapped his finger on the desk. "we suspect charlotte corday of being a darwinist."
"what!!" tania jumped out of her seat. "that's ridiculous1 that's the most ridiculous thing i've ever heard! charlotte would never belong to any religion."
"so in your experience charlotte has taken a hard line against all religion."
"i should say so!"
"and does not approve of the current policy of measured containment?"
"she believes religion is the ultimate curse of the universe."
"as you do?"
the duc leaned back in his chair. "charlotte heads unspeakable crimes. unspeakable crimes - a broad mandate indeed. wouldn't you agree?"
"yes, and i'm proud to be a member of it."
'if charlotte is so set against religion, why do you think she isn't in one of the units directly dealing with it?"
"what kind of a question is that? i'm just a detective, i don't give out major assignments."
"but don't you think it's a bit suspicious? in unspeakable crimes, she doesn't have to deal every day with people trained to spot the signs of religious mania."
tania tried to laugh. "that's absurd. with reasoning like that, you could suspect anybody of anything."
the duc spread his hands. "that's what we are here for, isn't it?"