“Paul, we need to talk!” Paul Kindred, managing editor of the Grantville Times, stifled a groan when he heard that voice. Betsy Springer came toward him at a dead run, her red ponytail bouncing like an excited rooster’s tail, and would have collided with him had he not stepped aside at the last minute.
“Hello, Betsy,” he sighed. Paul had been hoping for a quiet day. The political hijinks that fed both the front page and the dull ache just behind his eyes had been running at high tide lately, getting hotter as summer approached.
“Hello, Paul! Look, this is important: Rosebud and Watergate all wrapped up in one! We need to talk, but not in the street.”
Paul couldn’t count the number of times he had heard that phrase. Like the common cold germ, it would get under his skin, make his pulse race and leave him in a cold sweat, and before long he would have a major headache.
He gave Betsy a pleading look, hoping she would at least wait until he got into his office to pitch another hare-brained conspiracy theory story idea. But as Betsy hopped from one foot to another in excitement, he knew that there was little chance for peace.
“Indeed.” Paul consoled himself with the thought that if this story turned out to be too wild for the Grantville Times, at least Betsy wasn’t opposed to letting him “re-direct” it into the pages of The Inquisitor.
Paul also knew it would only be a matter of time before Betsy would start in on the movie quotes that were her trademark. It seemed like she could remember every detail of every movie she had ever seen.
One of these days he really needed to convince his father, the publisher of the Times, to send Betsy on a “Nellie Bly” style tour of the USE and surrounding areas, just to get her out of his hair. If sending her around the world were practical, he might have considered that.
As they neared the paper’s offices, Paul could see Denis Sesma’s gangly frame leaned against the front door. Denis was one of the artists he kept on staff to do woodcuts, one of the few who turned his work in on time, if not early. He should have expected that Denis would not be far when Betsy was around. They were a couple, though neither would admit it.
“Good morning, Mr. Kindred,” said Denis, doffing his cap the moment he spotted his employer.
“Hi, Denis. Come on inside,” Paul unlocked the door and gestured for the two of them to follow him. Betsy whispered something to Denis, who nodded and sprinted away. A few moments later he returned, followed by a skinny boy dressed in a typesetter’s apron and a square paper hat.
“If you want to stop the presses, you need to hijack more backshop people than that, Betsy,” Paul said. “So what’s the story?”
In response, Betsy snaked her arm around the kid and pulled him forward. The boy seemed reluctant, like he would have preferred to hide behind Denis.
“This is Alessandrio . . . Alessandrio?” Betsy looked to the boy with a quizzical expression. “Alexandrio.” She said firmly. The boy made a noise of protest but Betsy waved it away with a dismissive gesture. “I like that better. It’s more American. Paul this is Alexandria, actually.” Betsy began again. “She’s from Venice” Hearing Betsy’s words, Paul looked at the young typesetter again and realized this wasn’t a scrawny young boy, but a girl.
She wore her red-blonde hair in a close-cropped, masculine style, but her overly large, blue eyes made her seem more like one of those Precious Moments figurines of a street urchin rather than an actual person.
“Alex here found something important,” Denis said. The younger girl nodded and began to speak quietly in a string of broken English mixed with German, Venetian and Italian. Paul thought he heard the words reading and murder, and the name of a town not that far from Grantville: Hildburghausen.
“Okay, you’ve got my attention,” Paul said. “Let’s go in the office.”
If it were possible for Alexandria’s eyes to get bigger, they did at the prospect of going into Paul’s office. Most of the time when an employee went in there it was to be fired.
“Come on, he won’t bite,” said Betsy, and then turned to Paul. “You better not!”
“Yes, ma’am.” He led them into his office and slid into the high-backed chair that had been a gift from his father when he took over as managing editor. “Now, what the hell are you three talking about?”
“I read.” Alexandria blurted out.
“Alexandria’s father was a printer in Venice. His chief apprentice, Vito, turned out to be a lazy lout; unfortunately he couldn’t get rid of him, because of the boy’s family’s political connections, so Alex had to help in the shop to take up the slack,” said Betsy.
“Small fingers.” Alex held her ink-smeared hands out so that they could see that she had the nimble fingers that were perfect for setting type. “Typesetting for Papa, that’s how I learned to read English and German, besides Italian.”
“Unfortunately, her father was killed in an accident a year or so ago and the family business was seized by creditors,” said Denis.
Paul could almost finish the story himself. Even though she was trained as a printer and typesetter, there was no way any other printer would take on a girl, no matter how good she might be.
“Alexandria had two choices,” said Betsy, waving away the girls protest about the Americanizing of her name “Become a prostitute or hope she could find a convent that would accept her, neither idea was to her liking; so she found a third choice. She sort of reminds me of me in that way.”
“I heard about USE and how women have rights to work here,” she said slowly, picking her English words carefully. “Only way I could travel was disguised as boy. Took me four months, walking mostly. I had gotten used to having my hair like this, wearing pants and even answering to the name Alexandro, so when you hire me I didn’t bother tell you I was girl.”
“I only found it out by accident,” said Denis. “We were taking a wagon of supplies and the wheel broke. It threw Alex off and knocked him, er . . . her out. When I tried to see if he . . . she, was all right I opened his shirt and . . . ”
“I get the picture,” Paul said. “But how does this lead to murder?” Paul could feel his right eye start to tic. Betsy often had that effect on him.
“I read!” Alexandria cut in. “Always I read, books, pamphlets, even the type that I set. In library I find books about—what you call them?” She snapped her fingers as she searched for the correct words. Then her eyes lit up and she pointed at Paul. “Serial killers!” She said triumphantly.
“Wait!” Paul sat up straight. “Back up! Serial killers?”
“Yes, I see it in the type! I’m sorry my English not as good as I would like. I read it in the stories I set. I even read the other newspapers we get in here.”
Betsy nodded and gave Paul an apologetic smile. “I guess she was reading about criminal profiling at the library, how she got on that I still haven’t figured out. But she’s been setting stories about a series of strange deaths in Hildburghausen, and began to notice things that look like deliberate arsenic poisoning to her.”
As Betsy said this, Denis pulled out tear sheets of the stories and pointed to the pertinent passages. “The victims seem healthy. They eat enough to get fat—there’s a clue right there. How many people do you see who are actually overweight anymore? And the poison stays locked up in the body fat. When the poison stops, they lose their appetite and as they get skinny—the poison works its way back into their body and kills them. By the time they die, the poisoner has gotten away.”
“And she knows about poisons how?” Paul asked, a number of possibilities running through his head.
“Her uncle was an alchemist,” Denis said. “But he was murdered by a client so that he couldn’t give testimony before the tribunal.”
Alexandria sniffed. “Typesetting is better. Nobody gets pissed at you, at least not that much.”
“I saw this in a movie once,” Betsy said. “I think it was about the Borgias and how they used poison.”
Alexandria pointed to the article on top of the stack that Paul held. “Sickness in Hildburghausen.” And here.” She pulled a third article out of the stack. “Again and again.”
Paul looked from the articles to the two reporters and the typesetter. “You think it was murder?”
“Yes,” proclaimed Betsy. “The three of us spent a good while at the library. The symptomology matches.”
“Some of them could have been accidental,” Paul pointed out, though as he glanced over the articles there was something in the back of his mind that said there might actually be a story. “How do you intend to prove your theory?”
“We read up on a couple of tests, and scrounged what equipment we could. Alexandria thinks she can perform what’s called a Marsh test if we can find tissue samples and bring them here to her.”
“What tissue samples?” Paul asked pointedly.
Betsy gave him a blank look. “Swabs from dishes, or maybe leftover meals?”
Paul rubbed the bridge of his nose as he realized that the young redhead hadn’t thought this through. “To prove anything, you need tissue samples from the actual victims. You do realize that the authorities, not to mention the families, would not be pleased to have you digging up their relatives?”
“That is just gross,” said Betsy, “And I wouldn’t even think about it unless it were absolutely necessary.”
“You may be on to something here.” Paul said slowly, “But I think that you three are going to have to be very careful, very circumspect in what you do and what you say. Do you hear me, Betsy?”
“Right!” Betsy grinned. “We won’t let you down, Paul!”
“Excuse me, sir,” said Alexandria. “You say ‘you three’?”
“Yep, you’re going with them,” he said.
“B-b-but I’m supposed to work,” she stuttered. “Mr. Kelly will fire me if I not there!” Kinkelly ran the newspaper’s back shop and ruled it with an iron hand, though Paul knew that the man actually had a very soft heart.
“Don’t worry about Kelly; his bark is worse than his bite. You’re on full salary for as long as it takes to get this matter settled. No matter what happens, you will definitely have a job to come back to. On that you have my promise.”
“Oh,” she said in a little girl’s voice and looked uncertainly at Betsy and Denis.
“You may have to be both a boy and a girl,” said Betsy.
Alexandria looked up at Betsy with a start. “Pardon me?”
They had arrived in Hilburghausen that morning and gotten rooms at a small inn on the south side of town. It was the sort of place where strangers were the norm, so no one looked at them twice when Betsy, Denis and their “younger sister” checked in.
“It’s just a matter of letting people see one thing while something else is going on,” said Betsy. “It’s a kind of magic.”
Alexandria jerked back at the mention of magic, crossing herself and muttering something in Italian as she looked back and forth between Denis and Betsy.
Denis laughed and tore the corner off a piece of paper from the edge of the copy of The Inquisitor that lay on the table. He rolled it up in a ball, showed it to her, then holding it between two fingers, he passed his hand in front of it and the ball was gone. Alexandria’s eyes grew even wider than they normally were. Denis smiled then reached across the table, touched her ear with one hand and seemingly produced the paper ball from her ear.
“How?” she stuttered.
Denis didn’t say anything, he repeated the move, making the ball disappear, but then held his hand up and turned it around to where Alexandria could see the piece of paper hidden between two of his fingers.
“I let you see one thing, when something else was going on. That’s what Betsy’s talking about. It’s just a little misdirection; you’re expecting one thing while I’m doing another. Like they do it in the movies.” Denis looked over at Betsy, smiled and ran his finger down the side of his nose; hoping that was the gesture she had talked about in that movie The Sting.
Alexandria laughed and picked up the paper ball rolling it over and over in her hands.
“The fact is that everyone saw us check in with a young girl, so. I doubt anyone else will be paying attention if a young boy is seen wandering around town, listening and maybe asking the occasional question,” said Betsy.
“I see,” Alexandria said with a mischievous smile as she waved the crumpled paper around. “I sneak around, quiet as mouse, and listen in dark alleys and back corners.” She folded her hand over the paper ball, hiding it from sight.
“Exactly,” Betsy said. “Do you think you could sneak into one of the victim’s homes and get a look at the dishes?”
“It’s probably been too long to even try,” Denis said. “The first case was three months ago, and the second was a month later. Whatever possessions were left would have been distributed to their heirs.”
“You don’t suppose that’s the connection, do you?” Betsy tapped her upper lip with her forefinger. “The people in the second case. The Fuchs, yes?” she looked to Alexandria for confirmation. “Maybe they bought something that had been in the first home.”
“The home of Zedler,” Denis said. “That may be the case, but we won’t be able to find the connection that way.”
“I’m just afraid that the trail, as they say in detective movies, has gone cold.”
“They always made this look so easy on the detective shows,” Betsy muttered. “Paul may be right. We may have to dig up the bodies, no matter what he said or how gross it might be. We could find out for certain that way.”
“And even if this is the USE, our German hosts take a dim view on grave desecration,” Denis shuddered. “I have no desire to face a hangman for the sake of a story.”
“All right,” Betsy said reluctantly.
“I hope Alexandria had better luck than we did,” Betsy said moodily as she dug into her bratwurst. There were hardly any other people in the common room of the tavern. It was still relatively early; even the tavern girl had disappeared into the kitchen after dropping their plates in front of them. “Do you believe that those guys actually thought that breathing onions would stop the spread of illness? The thing is, in a couple of hundred years this area will be one of the first places to regulate food. They already regulate beer.”
“Not everyone believes the CoC when they talk about germs,” Denis said. “Knowing what may be going on makes me reluctant to eat anything in this town.”
“Don’t be silly,” Betsy said around a forkful of food. “Dad always told me that if I go anywhere, I should try and eat like a local. That way I learn more about the culture.” She smiled a little in recollection; it was a sad smile none-the-less. “We always did stuff like that on family vacations. Sometimes I wasn’t sure just exactly what cultural experience I was supposed to get, but I suppose it didn’t matter as long as it was an experience and it was cultural and it was with my dad.”
Denis nodded; he reached over and patted her hand. Betsy didn’t often let herself slip into melancholy, but thoughts of her dad always caused her eyes to water. “What would he want us to do?”
“Go get the bad guys, pilgrim,” she said.
“Pilgrim?” Denis shook his head. He was used to most of her movie references, but not all of them.
“Time to watch some John Wayne movies, then.” She squeezed his hand.
Just then, Alexandria slid into the seat across from them. Her wide, dark eyes looked serious. “Others have fallen sick.” She folded her hands and rested her chin on them. “So far, no one has died. But many are ill.” She looked at Betsy’s plate. “I spoke with both Herr Zedler’s neighbors and those of Herr Fuchs, along with a number of their servants; it’s always the servants who know more about what is going on in a house than the family that lives there. Herr Zedler bought a cow for slaughter days before he died. Frau Fuchs was known for her cooking, especially beef sausages. The cook here at this inn is her cousin.”
Betsy’s eyes bulged. She looked down at her plate, her stomach rolling. “I . . . ” She set the sausage down. “Suddenly I don’t feel so good.”
Denis held Betsy’s hair back as she threw the contents of her stomach up into the chamber pot.
“I think I just threw up my toenails.” She wiped at her mouth, and then flopped onto her side on the floor. “Wurst food I ever ate. Pun intended.”
Denis patted her shoulder in sympathy. “You’re fortunate,” he said to her. “You’re only suffering from your own overactive imagination. But you must be feeling better if you’re making bad puns like that.”
Betsy lifted her head from the floor and looked at him weakly. “Are you telling me that there wasn’t any arsenic in my dinner?”
“Alexandria checked your sausage.” He smoothed her hair back. “It was poison free. Now that you’re okay, she’ll start testing samples of meat from the families who are ill. I think we may have found the connection there.”
“She’s getting the samples how?” asked Betsy.
“She said ‘Don’t ask’, so I didn’t. There probably are things that it is better for us not to know.”
“So I guess this means the butcher did it. Although, that doesn’t quite have the ring of saying the butler did it.” Betsy grimaced as she sat up, a little pale, but the color rapidly coming back into her face. She gave Denis a sheepish smile. “Now I feel silly.”
Denis extended his hand to help her to her feet. “You say that like it’s a new feeling? There is someone I know here in town that I think we should talk to.”
Betsy looked surprised at that. “Who?”
“His name is Calvin Norcross,” Denis said. “We were apprenticed to Master Ribalta at the same time. If anyone knows things that are going on in this town, it will be him.”
“You ought to take up investigative journalism yourself,” Betsy said. “Everywhere we go you seem to have connections from the old days.”
“I can’t write with your flair,” Denis said, noncommittally. “Besides, don’t you always say a picture is worth a thousand words?”
“I figured that you would either be dead or in the army by now,” laughed Calvin Norcross.
The air in the studio was heavy with the smell of turpentine and paint. Half finished paintings and sketches filled every nook and cranny. Norcross stood just an inch shorter than Betsy and was thin enough that it looked like a good stiff wind would blow him away. The studio was bigger than Denis had expected, but still little more than a closet. The accumulated work showed him that Calvin was doing well and that fanned a tiny bit of jealousy in Denis. Calvin had obviously found another painter to take him on after Master Ribalta died.
“I figured you would have been beaten to death by some jealous husband or boyfriend,” returned Denis, taking his old friend’s outstretched hand.
“It helps to always know where the exit is and to be able to get your pants on while you are running,” laughed Calvin. His laugh cut off abruptly as Betsy stepped through the doorway around Denis. “And who is this stunning beauty?”
“This is Betsy Springer.” Denis took her hand protectively. “She’s a reporter for the Grantville Times.”
Calvin looked at Denis and Betsy’s clasped hands, and then smiled at his old friend. “And what does the Times want in Hildburghausen? Obviously something that is very important to send someone as lovely and talented as you. If you have the time, I hope you would consider modeling for me; with that beautiful face and red hair I would call it A Study in Red.”
“Well, now aren’t you just the one? Perhaps I might consider posing for you once our business here is completed,” said Betsy. Denis heard a familiar tone in her voice and knew that she didn’t buy into Calvin’s flattery. “We’re here investigating some mysterious deaths. There’s a chance they may have been from deliberate arsenic poisoning.”
Calvin looked from Denis to Betsy and back. Then let out a low whistle. “That’s a very serious matter,” he said. “If someone has been doing so, they would very quickly be hanged.”
“We hoped that you might be able to tell us if you had heard anything suspicious? As I recall, when we were studying with Master Ribalta you were always aware of what was going on around town,” Denis said.
“It never hurts to listen to what people are saying, Denis. I suppose you could say that it is only common courtesy. As for suspicious, I’m not sure what you’re looking for. I did lose a commission awhile back. Herr Fleischer wanted me to do a portrait of his daughter, but then canceled it at the last minute.”
“That would cost a lot of money, yes?” Betsy looked to Denis, who nodded in confirmation.
Calvin walked across the studio and pointed to a half finished canvas where a figure had been sketched out. “I haven’t had a chance to reuse the canvas; there’s always a chance he’ll change his mind. Although the man actually had the audacity to ask for deposit back.”
“Shameful,” said Denis.
“Sounds to me like Herr Fleischer ran into money problems,” said Betsy. “We need to follow the money, just like Woodward and Bernstein in All The President’s Men.”
“Woodward and Bernstein?” Calvin whispered to Denis.
“Don’t ask so loudly,” warned Denis.
“Strange.” Calvin said, staring at his old friend.
“Tell me about it,” shrugged Denis.
Their room looked like something out of a mad scientist’s lab when Denis and Betsy returned to the tavern. Alex stood over a burner with an odd array of glass flasks, copper tubing and bent beakers. A copy of the Grantville library’s Fun with Chemistry! book was propped before her like a cookbook. A number of tissue samples arrayed in bowls across the table reminded Betsy of the time in Charleston that she’d tried sushi on a dare.
Alex looked up from the burner and waved them over to her. “If I no make mistake, then it’s arsenic in all samples.”
Denis and Betsy looked at one another in trepidation.
“Ordinarily, I would say that we should go to the authorities, but . . . ” Denis rolled his hand in the direction of the table. “What evidence do we show them? I barely understand this and I have my doubts the Burghers in this town will.”
“We could try,” said Betsy. “Combined with what we know from your friend, Calvin, we can at least set the authorities on Herr Fleischer.”
“I’m not sure just how much I trust Calvin. He was always out for himself. Something doesn’t feel right about him; I just can’t put my finger on it. We’ve got to force Fleischer into a corner, but under circumstances that we control, not him. There is no one quite as dangerous as a man in that position. Besides, we still don’t know why he’s killing these people.”
“Maybe we should just ask him? Sometimes you have to just march right up to Jabba the Hutt’s palace and knock on the front door,” said Betsy.
“Hello?” Betsy called out as she looked around the stables behind Herr Fleischer’s home and shop. “Herr Fleischer?”
“He doesn’t appear to be here,” Denis said as he stepped around Betsy and into the stable.
“And he looks like he left in a hurry,” Betsy replied as she pointed to the floor. Tack and slightly-tarnished coins lay scattered across the ground. “I wonder if his daughter knows that he’s gone on the lam?”
“The dropping here is still warm,” Denis said as he held his hands over the steaming animal leavings in the stall. “Maybe we can catch him if we hurry.” He grasped Betsy’s hand and the two of them ran out of the stables and toward the river, in the opposite direction from whence they came.
“What did your sources at the Committee of Correspondence have to say about Herr Fleischer?” Betsy asked.
“They said to be careful,” Denis replied. “Dieter Fleischer used to be a Feldwebel in the army. He curses like a soldier and kicks like an angry mule.”
Betsy stopped abruptly, just over a mile beyond the city limits, pointing toward a shape lying just off the path ahead of them. “I don’t think we have to worry about that anymore.”
Denis followed her outstretched hand to see a man lying there in a rapidly spreading pool of blood. Half his head had been blown away. Judging by the mule grazing at the roadside with saddle bags filled to bursting, not to mention the physical description, the dead man was Dieter Fleischer.
“Definitely, gross,” said Betsy. Even so, she knelt close to the body and began examining it. “He’s still warm, so this has happened recently.”
“So much for getting a confession out of him,” said Denis.
Denis touched the side of Fleischer’s head and rubbed a drop of blood between his fingers. The smell of gunpowder hung in the air, but there was something else, something familiar that Denis couldn’t place. He began to pace back and forth along the bank, looking down at the ground, wishing he could do something like that fellow in the movies and books that Betsy talked about, Sherlock Holmes. The idea that he was starting to think in terms of movie characters scared Denis just a little.
“I’m thinking that we don’t have a lot of options now. This was murder and we should report it to the authorities,” said Denis as he passed close to some low bushes and trees. He had taken a few steps beyond them when he thought he heard the rustling of an animal within. Denis was about to investigate when Calvin Norcross charged out toward him, swinging a stout, jagged branch. The blow from his attackers cudgel was enough to put Denis on the ground.
“What the hell?” Betsy stepped backward in shock. Before she could charge to Denis’s rescue, Calvin dropped his club and produced a flintlock pistol.
“Old friend, I would not advise you, nor your rather well-endowed companion, to move. I won’t hesitate to shoot either of you,” he said.
Betsy scoffed. “It figures; even in the seventeenth century, men only notice one thing.”
“Why, Calvin?” asked Denis as he raised himself up to a sitting position.
“Money,” said the little painter. “That idiot cheated me out of my earnings! He was trying to get away with a fortune. I simply intercepted him as he left town. If you hadn’t interrupted me, everyone would have assumed that bandits took his ill-gotten gains.” He looked regretful, as if trying to convince himself that he had no other choice in what was about to happen. “Now I’m going to have to eliminate you, old friend, and your rather attractive traveling companion, to avoid a hangman’s noose myself. I would much prefer to have had her posing for me.”
“I think not.” Alex came from behind a nearby tree, her two small hands around the grip of a rather large and outrageous looking pistol.
Denis gaped at the device. It looked futuristic and frightening: wrapped with pieces of bent copper tubing and bits of glass on it. If he hadn’t seen the component parts in Alex’s lab, he would have believed it to be yet another frightening and wondrous uptime device.
Alex pulled a lever as if underscoring that she meant business. “You will drop your pistol or I use this and it will make what happened to Herr Fleischer seem like a nice thing. Do it now! You will drop your weapon and get down on your knees.”
Calvin looked at her and then the weapon. He seemed to be weighing his options.
“I wouldn’t,” Betsy said. “That’s a.44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world. It would blow your head clean off. So you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
Calvin swallowed, and dropped his own weapon. Then he slowly dropped to his knees.
Denis scrambled over and picked up the gun while Betsy pulled rope off the mule’s saddle and tied Calvin’s hands behind his back.
“He would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for us meddling kids. But this still doesn’t explain the tainted meat.” Betsy threw her hands in the air. “If I can’t explain that, then I don’t have much of a story. I’ll have to invent something for The Inquisitor and I would prefer to avoid that.”
“There is an old horse trader’s trick,” Denis said. “You give a little bit of arsenic to a nag to fatten it up. The poison makes the coat glossy and soon the nag looks like a respectable mount. It’s possible that Herr Fleischer purchased some very poor cattle at a very good price. Herr Zedlar purchased a cow and took it to Herr Fleischer. Herr Fleischer may have substituted his own poor quality meat for Herr Zedlar’s good meat, without realizing that it was tainted.”
“And Frau Fuchs purchased sausages from Herr Fleischer. Who pays attention to the quality of meat in sausages?” Betsy concluded with a grin. “This is going to make an incredible story. But what do we do with him?” she waved a hand at Calvin.
“I think we had better take this man to the authorities,” Denis said slowly. “With the three of us as witnesses I think that should be enough.”
“How did you know he was in the bushes?” asked Betsy as they walked.
“The blood was still tacky, so I knew it hadn’t been that long since Fleischer was killed, plus I caught a whiff of turpentine. It’s hard as hell to get out of your clothes and most painters get to the point they don’t even notice it,” he said. “I almost didn’t.”
He pointed up the path to indicate that Calvin should lead the way. Alex backed up his motion by gesturing with her improvised weapon.
As the four of them walked down the street in a bizarre parade, Betsy leaned over to speak to Alex. “I meant to ask you earlier, were did you get the idea for the ray gun?”
In response, Alex reached inside her jacket and pulled out a rolled up comic book that she passed to Betsy. On the cover, Ming the Merciless threatened Flash Gordon with a ray gun that looked remarkably similar to Alex’s creation.
“I read,” she said.