Perspective. I need to get perspective. It’s not an earthquake or a crazed gunman or a nuclear meltdown, is it? On the scale of disasters, this is not huge. Not huge. One day I expect I’ll look back at this moment and laugh and think, Ha-ha, how silly I was to worry—
Stop, Poppy. Don’t even try. I’m not laughing—in fact, I feel sick. I’m walking blindly around the hotel ballroom, my heart thudding, looking fruitlessly on the patterned blue carpet, behind gilt chairs, under discarded paper napkins, in places where it couldn’t possibly be.
I’ve lost it. The only thing in the world I wasn’t supposed to lose. My engagement ring.
To say this is a special ring is an understatement. It’s been in Magnus’s family for three generations. It’s this stunning emerald with two diamonds, and Magnus had to get it out of a special bank vault before he proposed. I’ve worn it safely every day for three whole months, religiously putting it on a special china tray at night, feeling for it on my finger every thirty seconds … and now, the very day his parents are coming back from the States, I’ve lost it. The very same day.
Professors Antony Tavish and Wanda Brook-Tavish are, at this precise moment, flying back from six months’ sabbatical in Chicago. I can picture them now, eating honey-roasted peanuts and reading academic papers on their his ’n’ hers Kindles. I honestly don’t know which of them is more intimidating.
Him. He’s so sarcastic.
No, her. With all that frizzy hair and always asking you questions about your views on feminism.
OK, they’re both bloody scary. And they’re landing in about an hour, and of course they’ll want to see the ring—
No. Do not hyperventilate, Poppy. Stay positive. I just need to look at this from a different angle. Like … what would Poirot do? Poirot wouldn’t flap around in panic. He’d stay calm and use his little gray cells and recall some tiny, vital detail which would be the clue to everything.
I squeeze my eyes tight. Little gray cells. Come on. Do your best.
Thing is, I’m not sure Poirot had three glasses of pink champagne and a mojito before he solved the Murder on the Orient Express.
“Miss?” A gray-haired cleaning lady is trying to get round me with a Hoover, and I gasp in horror. They’re Hoovering the ballroom already? What if they suck it up?
“Excuse me.” I grab her blue nylon shoulder. “Could you just give me five more minutes to search before you start Hoovering?”
“Still looking for your ring?” She shakes her head doubtfully, then brightens. “I expect you’ll find it safe at home. It’s probably been there all the time!”
“Maybe.” I force myself to nod politely, although I feel like screaming, “I’m not that stupid!”
I spot another cleaner, on the other side of the ballroom, clearing cupcake crumbs and crumpled paper napkins into a black plastic bin bag. She isn’t concentrating at all. Wasn’t she listening to me?
“Excuse me!” My voice shrills out as I sprint across to her. “You are looking out for my ring, aren’t you?”
“No sign of it so far, love.” The woman sweeps another load of detritus off the table into the bin bag without giving it a second glance.
“Careful!” I grab for the napkins and pull them out again, feeling each one carefully for a hard lump, not caring that I’m getting buttercream icing all over my hands.
“Dear, I’m trying to clear up.” The cleaner grabs the napkins out of my hands. “Look at the mess you’re making!”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry.” I scrabble for the cupcake cases I dropped on the floor. “But you don’t understand. If I don’t find this ring, I’m dead.”
I want to grab the bin bag and do a forensics check of the contents with tweezers. I want to put plastic tape round the whole room and declare it a crime scene. It has to be here, it has to be.
Unless someone’s still got it. That’s the only other possibility that I’m clinging to. One of my friends is still wearing it and somehow hasn’t noticed. Perhaps it’s slipped into a handbag … maybe it’s fallen into a pocket … it’s stuck on the threads of a jumper … The possibilities in my head are getting more and more far-fetched, but I can’t give up on them.
“Have you tried the ladies’ room?” The woman tries to get past me.
Of course I’ve tried the ladies’ room. I checked every single cubicle, on my hands and knees. And then all the basins. Twice. And then I tried to persuade the concierge to close it and have all the sink pipes investigated, but he refused. He said it would be different if I knew it had been lost there for certain, and he was sure the police would agree with him, and could I please step aside from the desk as there were people waiting?