68. Looking for Truffles and Butterflies

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Sometime later – in as far as time still had a meaning for me – I stumbled out of the powder room in a shirt and trousers, my feet still bare and my hair damp from the shower. Mr Ambrose awaited me outside, attired in his usual black tailcoat, bow-tie and icy expression. How odd. I could have sworn that he'd just been wearing red, and then... well... significantly less.

"What exactly did you do in there, Mr Linton?" he demanded, icily. He held his silver watch open in his hand. "You spent thirty-one minutes, four and a half seconds under the shower. The average time people require to take a shower is eight to fifteen minutes."

I blinked at him, owlishly. "How do you know the average time people need to make a shower? Do you spy through people's windows with a telescope?"

He chose not to honour that with a reply.

"I only require three and a half minutes," he informed me instead.

"I'm sure you do, Sir."

"People are too lazy." He let the watch snap shut and strode past me into the powder room. "This room is now occupied, and since there is no lock on the door, you had better remember not to come in."

"Say hello to Napoleon for me," I called after him. "And tell him if he's planning a rematch to start with the Ruy Lopez, e4 e5! Classic opening move!"

The door slammed shut without a reply. How rude! I liked him better under the shower.

Remembering, heat flushed through my lower body. Much, much better.

Oh, well, you couldn't expect people to behave the same when they're dry as when they're wet, now, could you? Disconsolately, I wandered over to the straight-backed visitor's chair and was just about to sink down on it, when it occurred to me that Mr Ambrose probably wouldn't like water stains on it any better than bloodstains. So I leaned against the wall and tried to dry my hair as best I could with the towel I had brought with me. It didn't go very well. The floor had it in for me once again, rocking from side to side, making it nearly impossible to find my own head, let alone get it dry.


I tried to throw the towel over the back of my head so I could rub my neck dry. But somehow I managed to throw it over the front of my head instead, to rub my face wet. I got a mouthful of towel, and tried in vain to dislodge it from between my teeth.

"Blaft, blaft, blaft... pfft! Blast!"

Finally! But by now I had managed to wrap the towel around my throat. Could one strangle oneself with a towel, I wondered? It would certainly make an interesting headline:

Sparsely dressed young lady found strangled with a towel in office of London's richest businessman! The Scandal thickens! Mr Rickard Ambrose unavailable for comment!

Mr Ambrose would not be pleased – and neither would Napoleon or Alexander. They'd prefer it if I died bravely in battle, I was sure. I should probably try not to strangle myself.

Tentatively, I tugged at one end of the towel again. The beastly thing constricted around my throat, with total disregard for the wishes of two famous historical emperors.


"Here, let me."

My hand jerked when somebody touched it and I really would have strangled myself had not this other hand gripped the towel firmly and unwound it from around my neck. Wait just a minute—I knew this hand!

It was Mr Ambrose. He had returned, and appeared beside me without my noticing. Well, I suppose strangling oneself is a rather engrossing activity.

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