Tag Archives: mystery

Two for Luck

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The sentinels of Nevermore that greeted Mr. Nelson and I on our way in tonight. Perhaps they’ll bring me better luck in dealing with Aunt Pearl and Uncle than they did with dealing with the Woman in White…though I was able to walk away from the confrontation so I suppose my luck wasn’t so bad….

2.00 The Grey Man

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Turns out when you inadvertently scare the bejesus out of a septuagenarian, they don’t ask a whole lot of questions. 

Entirely engrossed in the mystery I’d lent him, Mr. Nelson didn’t notice me standing by the driver’s side door until I knocked on the window. After clutching his heart and hyperventilating for a few anxious moments, he leaned over and unlocked my door. 

I thought the Princess smelled like a fruit basket before. 

If the squares in his lap and the wrinkled cellophane packages in the back were any indication. He’d happily sampled his way through the entire marshmallow cornucopia. Sarah would just have to make do with twenty-five dollars worth of the suckers – she’d live. Handing me the Princess’s keys (locking him in the car without them felt slightly kidnapy), he finally noticed the swaths of gauze wrapped around my palms, wrists, and extending up my forearms.

Mr. Nelson (eyeing my bandages): “Are you up to driving?”

Me (shoveling reassurance into one word while turning over the ignition): “Yup.”

Pulling the Princess out of her impromptu hiding place, I gingerly steered the car while Mr. Nelson fumbled around in his seat.

Me (cranking up the heater): “You okay over there?”

Mr. Nelson (grumbling and struggling): “Yeah, the seat belt is wrapped around my arm…”

Me: “I’ll stop at the gates so you can sort yourself out.”

Mr. Nelson just grunted and continued to juggle the book, book-light, and marshmallows all the while trying to keep the seatbelt from strangling him. Neither of us appreciated the four speed bumps we bounced over on the way to the gates. He finally got his feathers smoothed by the time the Princess rolled to a stop at the Second Avenue entrance. Turning to place the remaining marshmallows into the box in the backseat – it was his turn to scare the bejesus out of me – with a rather loud and inarticulate exclamation.

Turnabout is fair play, I suppose. 

Me (staring wildly around, dimly registering the pricking of my toes): “What? Where?”

Mr. Nelson (jabbing the air wildly with his index finger): “Look! Over there!”

Looking around for the source of Mr. Nelson’s excitement – I glimpsed Joseph’s back as he strolled around the curve and out of sight. 

Mr. Nelson: “Did you see him? Did you see The Grey Man?’

Me (still trying to get a grip): “The Grey Man?”

Sitting back down in his seat, he gave me a look that made me wonder if I’d accidentally spoken in Swahili. Smoothing his re-ruffled feathers, Mr. Nelson took a deliberate moment before answering my question. Which was great because my heart couldn’t take another shock tonight. Who the hell is The Grey Man? 

Channeling my inner ostrich, I buried my head in metaphorical sand. This is tomorrow’s problem.

Pulling out into the quiet street, I steered the Princess towards my passenger’s house. 

Mr. Nelson (unknowingly stomping all over my tail feathers): “A bit before your time I dare say, before my own if truth be told. But they say Grey Man of Rye is, was Edmund Wynter. A corrupt politician from the early nineteen-thirties who was found one a quiet Sunday morning hanging from the oak tree in front of City Hall…”

Me (my foot barely touching the gas): “Serious?”

Mr. Nelson (a mischievous light in his eyes): “As a heart attack. The only clue? A note pinned on his chest with the words, ‘No More’ written on it.”

Me (the Princess moving at a crawl now): “No more? No More what?”

Mr. Nelson: “That question didn’t get answered for twenty years.”

Me (feeling like a myna bird): “Twenty years?”

Mr. Nelson: “A reporter at the Daily Harvest overheard a conversation when he was a kid, and remembered it. During a slow news summer, he started digging. Discovering not only the meaning of the note but the motive for Wynter’s murder – blackmail. Turns out Wynter, for a price, would alter any record in City Hall to suit. What his ‘clients’ didn’t know was he kept the original documents. Then when he needed a favor, he’d use the originals to extract it.”

Me: “But how does this relate to the Grey Man?” 

Mr. Nelson: “Right after Wynter’s gruesome death, people started to report sightings of him, wearing his trademark gray suit, all over town. Always looking over walls, thru windows, and around corners. It was whispered he was looking for his killer. However, after the story in the Daily Harvest, people began to wonder if he was really looking for his blackmail material, because none of his records ever resurfaced.”

How had I never heard this story before? Me, Morticia, Queen of the Macabre? (Mostly because people keep giving me skeleton themed gifts)

Me (snails were moving faster than we were): “Did they ever catch who killed him?”

Mr. Nelson: “No, and from the Daily Harvest coverage I’ve read, the police didn’t look very hard. Hey, your Uncle’s house is just up ahead. Can you pull in there?”

Me: “Sure. Why?”

Mr. Nelson (clearly excited): “I want to tell your Uncle I spotted the Gray Man! It’s been twenty years!”

Looking at my watch, which made me recall my current state of being (it was concealed by swaths of cotton), and because my ex-ray vision was down, I looked at my dash clock. Which informed me it was only ten o’clock. Still within calling hours of their house (which can extend pretty late if you have something interesting to say or show my Uncle). 

Turning into the drive, Mr. Nelson bounded out of the car before she’d rolled to a stop. Parking the Princess in her usual spot, I leaned my head against the headrest, took three deep breaths then opened the door. 

This should be fun.

1.74 Postmortem

 

Stepping past the now inert wooden box, up to the stainless steel sink I watched Joseph turn on the taps. Keeping my eyes firmly away from my mitts, since acknowledging them only made them hurt more enthusiastically, I concentrated all my attention on the inside of Joseph’s left elbow while he sluiced water over my wounds. 

If it weren’t for all the stinging the water would have felt nice. Its warmth helped to dispel the frigid echo of her hands on my heart.

Me (attempting to distract my mind): “You were going to make her a Resident, if she hadn’t attacked me, weren’t you.”

Joseph (absently): “Yes.”

Me (wincing): “But she attacked you first.”

Joseph (dryly): “I will admit that didn’t bode well. But I wanted to give her a chance at a different sort of existence.”

Me (cocking my head): “Why didn’t her attack work? On you I mean.”

Joseph (shrugging): “Does it matter?”

Me (wincing again): “Well yes, if you can teach the Residents what you did, it could help keep them safe.” 

Joseph (glancing sideways at me): “It isn’t something I can teach them to do.”

Me (sensing the knotting off of that subject, I moved on): “Okay…But how was she able to hurt me? And I her?”

Joseph (sounding distracted again): “Both are excellent questions.”

Me (gritting my teeth while he worked a boulder out of my left palm): “Are you going to answer them?”

Joseph (releasing my hands): “Yes, but not tonight. Keep your hands under the water while I find the first aid kit.”

Resting my temple against the cabinet above the sink, I closed my eyes and obeyed… 

Joseph startled me when he pulled my beleaguered appendages out from under the water and started drying them with a large piece of gauze. Seems I’ve acquired the new and useful skill of dozing off while standing up. Yet another talent which isn’t really résumé applicable. 

Tipping my head back I struggled to shove away my exhaustion, while Joseph started to apply ointment from the kit he’d found.

Me (casting about for a new topic while he worked on me): “How did you know she was here tonight?” 

Joseph (exasperated): “You think I don’t know when a Woman In White crosses into Nevermore? How did you know she was here? The message Mazy relayed stated her arrival wasn’t for a few more days.” 

Me: “Radio. Sarah let me down. County probably changed dates without telling her. Crap!!!”

Joseph (pausing in his application of bandages): What?

Me (looking him in the eye and waving my hands): How am I going to explain these to Mr. Nelson? 

So wholly occupied with the creation of at least a moderately plausible explanation for my current state I failed to notice when Joseph finished bandaging me up and started herding me towards the door. When I finally realized where we were heading (and the fact Joseph seemed inordinately amused by my highly improbable scenarios), I protested. He shouldn’t have to clean up the mess all by himself. When pointed out Mr. Nelson probably wouldn’t stay put forever, I was forced to concede the point.

Me (treading wearily to the end of the hallway): Sorry for ruining your offer of Residency.

Joseph (stepping a pace ahead and opening the outside door): The only apology owed is for underestimation of my skills.

Me (I started to apologize again until I saw the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth): Not pompous at all. 

Joseph (chuckling at my dry tone, he then sobered): Even after striking me I might still have given her a chance if she’d shown any remorse for her actions. But her attack on you proved her transformation into a Woman In White was complete. By coming here tonight, you undoubtedly saved a few of the Residents from being stripped.

Taking the straw he offered me, I tried to use it to subdue the wiggling feeling of guilt inside. 

Me (pausing just on the other side of the dumpster where I’d left Mr. Nelson and the Princess, using my quiet voice): Thank you for stopping her from…

Cutting off my gratitude Joseph placed a kiss on my forehead. Which warmed the very cockles of my heart.

Joseph (smiling): Your welcome. 

Smiling in return, I murmured my goodbyes and walked around the dumpster. 

1.73 With A Whimper or Bang?

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Gasping for breath I braced myself against the wall, trying to gain enough leverage to shove her greedy hands away, but I couldn’t budge them an inch. I nearly sobbed when Joseph’s hand settled over one of mine. “Phoebe let go.”

Gently his fingers probed the back of my head, a moment later the pain receded enough for me to think clearly, “Phoebe, look at me.” Unable to comply in any fashion, it took several minutes of reassuring words for me to detach my eyes from her grasping hands onto Joseph’s face. When I finally managed the task he smiled and stroked my hair, “You’re safe.”

Turning back I finally saw what my myopic view missed, the Woman In White was still as a bronze Rodin. Turns out I wasn’t the only one her tell had clued in to her final decision. Joseph had stopped her a hairsbreadth away from plunging her hands back into my chest.

It took a few more heart beats for the word ‘safe’ to reach my extremities. My hands proved the most troublesome of the lot, locked fast on her wrists it required actual effort to loosen their death grip. When they finally did release, I quickly scooted out from between her and the wall. Burying my face in Joseph’s chest, I took in the smell of old paper, earth and the faint undercurrent of dog for a long minute.

Finally, I reluctantly let go of Joseph’s stolid presence and turned to confront the woman who would undoubtedly star in a few of my future nightmares. From experience, I knew that if I watched the Fade, I might avoid some of the worst images my subconscious would throw my way (though to be fair none of the times I’d needed to intervene with a Resident were this dramatic). She stood suspended before me staring at the wall, her blond hair billowing around her face and her clothes rippling under unseen waves. 

When I finally dared to look at the hands which so mercilessly attempted to strip my spark, I couldn’t stop staring.

“Joseph what did I do?”

He remained silent behind me. 

My brain couldn’t reconcile the images my eyes sent. Forgetting my fear (and Joseph) for a moment, I leaned in for a better look. The Woman In White’s wrists now sported deep char marks where I’d hung onto them for dear life. Sooty black streaks extended all the way up both her forearms highlighting where my hands had slipped during our struggle. None of what I saw made any sense. 

Unable to think of a new question, I turned and looked him in the eye, “Joseph what did I do?”

“You were trying to stop her from hurting you again.” He replied quietly.

Staring stupidly at my blood smeared palms, “But salt doesn’t do that.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

My attempts to study the seared divots my finger left in her skin were thwarted when she buckled slightly then smudged, forcing me to give up my shocked scrutiny. The Fade was settling into her form and was erasing the finer details from her while I watched.

“Let’s take care of those scrapes.” 

Finally recalling I literally had salt in my wounds, my palms stung so severely my eyes started watering. Or maybe it was walking from a dimly lit hallway into Sarah’s bright domain. Either way, my cheeks were wet. 

“I got blood all over you!” My face grew hotter with each new dark blotch I spotted on his dove gray jacket.

With a twinkle in his eye, “Don’t worry, I own more than one suit.” 

When I glanced over my shoulder (and away from what I’d besmirched), I witnessed what little was left of the Woman In White shudder slightly then evaporate from sight.

A small burst of highly inappropriate humor popped out of me, “Best magic trick ever.”

“That is of course what I was aiming for.” Joseph’s reply was as dry as dust, but when I looked his mouth, it held a wry smile that reached all the way to his eyes.

1.71 The Woman In White

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It didn’t seem she was anywhere close to finished. 

Each time her fist rebounded ineffectively off Joseph’s chest, the next strike followed quickly on its heels. It took mere moments for the siren to morph into a frenzied harpy.

Joseph stood stone still watching her attempts to seize his heart. Then the monolith I’d known for three-quarters of my life shifted his gaze from her to me and shook his head slightly.

My hand fell away from the door. The open sack of salt slid quietly to the floor.

Refocusing on the woman currently colliding with him, he grasped her wrists and said, “Enough.” Struggling against his grip, she continued to thrash until he caught her with his gaze and whatever it held did the job.

“Now that you’ve finished trying to kill me, we can talk.” Releasing her, Joseph walked over and placed his hand on the other identical (but inert) wooden box on the table opposite hers.

When she turned to follow his progress, it allowed me to finally observe her features, which were quickly shifting from shock to suspicion, “Why didn’t that work?”.

I might ask the same question.

“Does it matter?” Leaning back against the counter, his stance open, he watched her pace the floor.

“Of course it matters! I didn’t deserve to die for having an affair. I need to punish him!” Her focus shifting back to her husband drove her towards Joseph again.

His words stopped her dead, “Is that how you justified what happened afterward?” 

“Afterward?”

“Your lover, David Waller, your husband killed him. But you, you drained the rest of him away.”

The Woman In White ran her hands through her hair then gripped it tightly in both fists, “No. That’s not right. He killed me. He killed me!”

Ignoring her distress (and words) Joseph continued on, his tone brutal, “Perhaps it was an accident. In your anger and confusion, you lashed out and discovered what your rage could do.”

Attempting to grasp the lifeline he was offering, she opened her mouth to say something. What I will never know because he wasn’t finished.

“But what about Stan Burgess, Alan Pike, Bryce Franks, Jordan Wallace, Alex Johnson, Fred Johnson and Liam Johnson? You lured them onwards until they were hurt, broken, hungry, lost and scared. All the while you lingered watching them grow weaker and weaker until you struck. Stripping their energy away until nothing was left. Did they deserve to die?”

With each name she stepped away from Joseph, clutching her head – slowly shaking it back and forth, “No! No! That wasn’t what happened. I didn’t lure them. They got lost…”.

Joseph was unyielding, “No.”

In a small voice, unable to look away from the floor, “I was just trying to show them where he hid me….”.

“No.”

Tearing at her hair, she flung her hands up, “Fine. Fine! I parroted the words everyone whispered about me. The lies he spread about me. Not everyone who heard my voice followed. Only the ones attracted to his lies, persuaded by their rumors, their insinuations, their innuendos. Those men followed me like lambs. Fueled me. But they were found. They were found.” 

“They were indeed. Which is the only reason why you are still standing here.”

This quiet statement startled us both. 

Joseph’s cool calm was a balm to her scorching heat, “You are the reason why your killer will never walk free again. Why his secrets are no longer his own to hold. The job is done.”. 

“Done? He killed me, but so many others threw handfuls of dirt on my name. They buried me long before he put me in the ground.” Derision embroidered her chilling statement of intent. 

She wasn’t going to stop, oh gods, how much havoc could she wreak in Nevermore until her rage finally burned her out? How many Residents would she consume before burning day? Who would she torment? Her father? He’d believed the rumors and her husband’s stories. Her friends? They never mounted a substantial search for her. Aunt Pearl?

“No. Lex talionis will not be observed here. Your culpability in the harm of bystanders exceeds the crimes committed against you.” The calm delivery was belied by the intensity of his eyes, which hadn’t strayed from hers since he’d looked at me. “You cannot continue on in this fashion.”

Her eyes narrowed, her unwavering focus on retaliation rearing its ugly head once again, “Who are you to judge me?”. 

Joseph said he could handle her…

His smile never reached his eyes, “Absolution is not mine to give. What I am offering is a chance…”

…The tension radiating from the room coated my every nerve until the rigidity of my stress seared skin finally recalled me from the scene playing out on the other side of the door. The need to break the pressure amplified along my frame was overwhelming. I absently rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants and bent my knees slightly while shifting my weight onto my right leg. 

How I forgot about the open twenty-five-pound bag leaning on my left, I will never know.

1.70 Nevermore

 

(Before and after pictures of my state of mind after KARB’s news report.)

Mr. Nelson sat quietly next to me, clutching his seat, while I channeled my inner Lewis Hamilton (world champion F1 driver). The Princess was more vocal in her protests against my rather cavalier attitude towards her right now. She is many things but a Formula One car? Not even in her wildest dreams. 

I willed the lights ahead of me to turn green since stopping for reds wasn’t going to happen. 

When I finally passed thru Nevermore’s side gates, I rued the day I’d persuaded Little Ben to install these forking speed bumps. Their existence was currently hindering me from taking the lanes at speed. However Lady Luck was with me when we finally came within sight of the main building, everything looked buttoned up and empty. 

Perfect.

Even better? The assortment of marshmallows presently in the Princess, coupled with an effervescent historical mystery, read by book light in such a unique setting provided more than enough entertainment for Mr. Nelson’s Monday night. Or so he assured me. 

The Princess was parked between a retaining wall and the recycler.

Seems he really didn’t want to owe my Uncle a favor anymore.

Didn’t matter.

What did? The fact I told Joseph we had five days before the Woman In White was supposed to arrive.

Slipping from my parking spot around to the back entrance I used my keys to let myself in (it took four tries to get the key in the lock). After carefully punching in Big Ben’s security code into the alarm panel with a shaky hand (the last thing I needed to do was get that wrong) I headed straight to the maintenance closet.

Opening the door, I breathed a sigh of relief. It seems Sam (our admin) had placed the winter supply order I’d put together before Little Ben laid me off. Which meant I could head straight over and heft a twenty-five-pound bag of rock salt off the shelf. Not the highest quality of salt but the sheer quantity should suffice. Exiting the supply closet, I headed further into the building towards Sarah’s Domain & Depository. Where I knew I would find the Woman In White’s bones. 

My one fervent hope? That she’d elected to maintain her vigil over her husband rather than her remains.

When the electric current arched over my toes my heart sunk to their level – she was in Nevermore. The only upside was the fact she wasn’t running around the grounds yet. Bouncing quietly on the balls of my feet down the rest of the hallway, my heart nearly stopped when I spied the seam of light leaking from under Sarah’s door. My ears detected muffled voices emanating from the other side. I set the bag of rock salt down softly against the wall. Then very slowly pulled down on the lever handle opening it just a sliver.

“He needs punishing!” she screeched at Joseph.

Well, that explains why she wasn’t pursuing the Residents yet.

“He will be. You followed him to the police station, watched his interrogation, and witnessed his confession.” Joseph answered in a flat voice, stepping forward he inadvertently gave me a better angle to watch him from. It also revealed the plain cedar box to his right. I didn’t need to read the small brass plate to know what resided inside, the susurration gave its contents away.

A wind whipped thru the room scattering forms, print-outs and general papers left out in its wake. 

Won’t that be fun to straighten up later.

With her frustration vented and Joseph unmoved by it, she changed tactics. Her voice melted into a mellifluous timber, and her movements turned languid while she slowly closed the gap between them. “He murdered me. I want to punish him. Me, not someone else, you understand…” On her last words, she reached up to his collar and traced the parallel lines of his lapels down his chest.

Trying to play the siren to lure him into complying with her wishes? 

I couldn’t see her face, but Joseph’s looked unimpressed.

When her hands reached the middle of his chest they disappeared from my view – but her arms gave her away – the split second prior to the punch she tensed.

Hurry, hurry, hurry! I knew her aim. If she grasped his heart, she could use it to find his bones and siphon away the energy held within. Lurching sideways I fished for the knife in my pocket. Finally grasping it, I quickly slit the sack sitting next to me halfway open. 

The simple latch on the brass-bound box would take a single moment to open. Then I could finish what I started on Pumpkin Mountain. Picking up the sack of salt with one hand and reaching for the door with the other I prepared to confront the Woman In White myself.

However, Joseph’s bored tone stayed my hand on the handle, “Are you finished now?”

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