Emily Murray is the youngest of six kids, from a rural, Northern California town. With all of her older siblings pursuing careers in music, Emily found her own avenue of artistic expression through writing. This is Emily's first publication.
It was September 28th, 1949 when Amelia Unger crept inconspicuously into the small village of Ambleside. She had arrived at her newest residence, at the top of the hill, in such secrecy that the formal invitations to her welcoming party came as a curious surprise to all of the townspeople. It was rather an unusual thing for someone from the village to arrange, when the Rosemary Inn was at the hub of things and just about packed every night. All of the citizens were urged to attend—from the red-faced, round-bellied mayor to Ambleside’s resident drunk, Richie O’Mally.
Amelia was a tall woman, with short and flashy black hair that gleamed with every movement of her elegant neck. Her title was Miss Unger, as she was unmarried despite her age and obvious, albeit unusual handsomeness. Her eyes were a striking blue that exuded a distinct intelligence, but withheld secrets of a past she had not slipped even a hint to anyone about. She had spoken to only a select few, and each particular person harbored their own contrasting opinions about her.
Eudora Schmuck, a teller at the local bank, spoke very highly of the elusive Unger. “A brilliant woman if I ever met one. She can handle herself, I’m sure.” Schmuck herself was considered particularly knowledgeable around Ambleside—one of the few that had actually ventured out and away for university—and her opinion was held in high regard by many.
Another influential town member was Robert Gale, owner of the general store. After a strange encounter where the woman in question ventured into his store, and did not say a single word, he declared to anyone who would listen that she was “funny-like”, and possibly dangerous. Her reservedness, he said, was to be her undoing, as strangers were of no benefit to one another and there was only mistrust left for those that did not yield their trust to others.
Perhaps the majority agreed with Gale in this regard; why was she so secretive? Mysteries were not a favorite of the people of Ambleside. In fact, anything even slightly out of the ordinary caused many to act in strangely rash ways. Rebecca Jones, the postmistress, had already started spreading absurd rumors about how Miss Amelia was the daughter of some German official that was fabulously wealthy, and herself an unloyal daughter desperate to escape the confines of the most despised country in all of Europe.
“You should see the envelopes she gets.” Jones could be heard blathering on the Saturday evening after Unger arrived, a drink in hand and a group of locals around her at the Rosemary. “Rimmed with gold, I tell you. And the writing is much too gaudy for the likes of you and me, don’t I know it. And don’t you think her English is a bit funny?”
But of course, everyone was terribly excited to attend the party. For, though a simple town if there ever was one, Ambleside had a rather ridiculous hierarchy of the credible and respectable persons, all the way down to the foolhardy and rash. Everyone wanted to secure their places and prove to one another their worth. There was also much excitement stirring about fashion choices and presentment, for people rarely dressed up and easily fell captive to the need to bedazzle and best each other.
It was Sunday evening when the cars pulled from their driveways, a few stray bicycles trailing after them as they braved the winding and secluded hill, curving around Ambleside’s Windermere Lake and up to the Maverick Estates. The sun was kissing the hills goodbye in that swift and sweet English fashion, a lush blue twilight reaching briskly after it. A cloud drifted lazily in the dim light, unveiling a moon that cascaded silvery light upon the people as they approached the mansion in breathless excitement, each wrapped in their own interpretations of finery.
Julie Withrow, a waitress at the Rosemary, leaned over and whispered to Schmuck, “There you are, Eudora. She can take care of herself.”
The doors opened, and Amelia emerged, dressed finest of all.
“Hello, my dear guests. Welcome, welcome. Yes, do come in.”
People filed past her, unsure of how to greet her. Most settled on polite “Good evening’s” and timid “thank you’s”, but some, including our Misses Schmuck and Withrow, took her pale hands in theirs and smiled.
“Thank you, Miss Unger.” Eudora said, gazing into her vibrant eyes. “Your home is magnificent.”
“Of course, darling. It’s Eudora, isn’t it?”
“And this beautiful young lady is…?” Amelia turned her brilliant gaze on Julie, who blushed softy.
“Juliet.” She said, her voice quiet but steady, and subtly Irish. Julie had shown up in Ambleside as a curious toddler, alone on the doorstep of The Rosemary with a note that told only her name and chattering away so very un-British like. Mr and Mrs Rupert, the owners of the inn, had quickly fallen in love with her, and took her in as their own. To that day she still had not lost the lilt in her voice.
“Interesting accent.” Amelia remarked.
“So I’ve heard.” Julie winked at her, and the older woman smiled brightly.
In a genial manner the three proceeded inside, the last left upon the entrance porch before Amelia’s great oak doors.
The people of Ambleside were by no means modest. They had wasted no time spreading themselves about in the entrance hall, morning and dining rooms. Coats lay in a heap in the checkroom, while a young servant worked hurriedly to sort them all out. Most everyone was merrily chatting and laughing, already working their outrageous tales reserved only for the best and brightest of occasions, which Unger’s party certainly accounted for. Some, however, were huddled away in corners and muttering dark things to one another involving their enigmatic host. These people included of course Mrs Jones and Mr Gale, and a few of their close friends—notably, a new resident in Ambleside named Joshua Keswik, the local mechanic that had been so far determined to be a man of great displeasure.
There were simply too many people about to herd into one room, so Amelia and some of the less particular guests endeavored to spread the word of plentiful refreshments and hors d'oeuvres in the dining room. The party so commenced, swelling cheerfully with laughter and lively discussions all around. Gossip, as it so often does, began to sweep from room to room as a warm and sweet scent that caught everyone’s nose.
“Where did our host get to?” Asked Joe Rupert, the barliman and Julie’s surrogate father. Mrs Jones, several conversations away, picked up on this and appeared next to him in a blink.
“Exactly my question, Rupert. Didn’t even bother with a formal address. And apparently she’s requested that we keep to the first floor! Seems as if she’s hiding a thing or two away in those rooms upstairs, doesn’t it?” Her eyes were ablaze with what could most politely be described as curiosity.
“And she’s got every right to! It’s her house, isn’t it?”
Jones clucked her tongue, shaking her head. She took a swig of her remaining brandy, dropping the empty glass on a side table and lightly patting one of her ruddy cheeks.
“She’s come to Ambleside, and fancied herself ritz enough to nab the Maverick! I’d say her business is ours if it’s something she refuses to share.”
“Can’t you leave anyone to themselves?” Rupert grumbled under his breath.
Jones raised her eyebrows haughtily and chuckled.
“Suit yourself, Rupert. I forgot I was talking to the man that refuses to notice anything beyond his bar stools.” And with that, the woman turned away to prattle with the ones who were less peevish. Rupert was left rolling his eyes to grab another drink.
Across the room Eudora was in conversation with Mathew Kruber, the librarian. “Fantastic build, isn’t it?” She remarked, running her fingers along the arc of the doorway into the sitting room, where they stood.
“Finest in all of Ambleside, I’m sure. Nobody has lived here for years.”
Eudora tilted her head thoughtfully. “There was that dratted old woman that kept up the place, when I was just a child.”
Kruber chuckled. “Ah, yes. Rose Hathaway. She really was something.”
There was a scuffle beside them as Billy Brown kicked off his shoes and led a spattering Mrs Jones into a silly little jig, despite the substantial lack of music in the room.
“I remember she wouldn’t receive any guests or let anyone past the gates. We’d try to get into the garden, where she tended those cherry trees.” She paused and then chuckled. “Though, if she caught you, I swear she’d set her dogs on you!”
Mr Kruber laughed as Mrs Kruber approached, cleverly avoiding the crowd that had gathered around the dancing couple, enthusiastically cheering them on.
“What is it you two are going on about?” He took her arm, still chortling.
“Only old Hathaway, from a few years back. You remember her, darling?”
Mrs Kruber scowled. “Hathaway! Why, she made it her personal business to report my cooking as ‘unpalatable’.” Mrs Kruber was the head cook at Ambleside’s finest restaurant, Fiddler’s Run. “Of course, I never told her that I found her personality to be rather unpalatable myself.”
This sent the three into a bout of laughter, as Julie emerged from the crowd. She eyed them warily, her eyebrows knitted.
“Ah, Julie,” said Mrs Kruber through a fit of chirruping hiccups, “Your days were brighter days, I’m sure.”
“I’ve absolutely no idea of what you’re referring to, Missus.”
“Just the petulant people of the world.” Eudora said, running a hand affectionately over Julie’s golden hair, plaited neatly for the night. While she was very tall and willowy, Julie stood no taller than her shoulder and contrasted Eudora’s thin figure with her own healthily plump one. The two could not look more different. And yet, Eudora had always felt that they were as compatible as twins, or at the very least a set of differently aged, affable sisters.
“That reminds me.” Julie said in a low voice, as Mr and Mrs Kruber drifted over to another circle. “Mr Gale and Mr Keswik have retired to the gardens. They looked like they were up to some sort of trouble when I passed them. I thought you would want to know.”
Eudora narrowed her eyes. “Interesting. Care to join me, my dear?” She offered the younger woman her hand, which Julie took without a moment’s hesitation. The two exited the room as someone found the radio and a sudden blast of something very skiffle-like echoed through the halls behind them.
The gardens were laid out before the mansion, overlooking Lake Windermere in tiers that stretched all the way down to the boathouse. Enclaving the entire estate was a towering stone wall that would keep any respectable adult confined inside or abandoned out, but might receive the impetuous attempts of eager children seeking a flourishing cherry tree. Hedges loomed like statues in the misted night, overgrown and wickedly watchful over torn flower beds and broken benches. Every few meters on the crumbling walk—which periodically took the form of stairs—smoldered a lamp that only feebly lit a ring around it, allowing any so concerned person to creep through the darkness unseen.
Eudora and Julie approached this scene in silence, their hands still clasped together. It seemed as though the gardens were presently deserted, yet they found themselves stealing quietly past each lamp and gap in the rows of hedges. Just before Eudora felt it was time for them to return inside—when they saw the silhouette of the boathouse faintly illuminated by the moonlight—a pair of voices crept towards them from around it. Signaling quickly to Julie, Eudora ducked behind another row and hid, heart hammering, to listen:
“She suspects us.”
It was the deep voice of Mr Gale, direct but accompanied by something lurking beneath. It took a moment for Eudora to recognize it as fear.
“You’re paranoid.” This was the reedy voice of Mr. Keswik. “She doesn’t suspect anything. Besides, it’s only a matter of time now.”
The feet shuffled and stopped, exactly where Julie and Eudora stood, on the other side of a hedge.
“A matter of time? Time is just what I’m concerned with! If what you say is right, and she hasn’t yet discovered us, then she very soon will. Might I remind you that we’re currently guests attending her own blasted party?”
It was fortunate that Keswik chose that moment to scoff, for both Julie and Eudora gasped.
“Quiet down, Gale.” The feet moved past them, clunking up the steps to the mansion. “We just have to be patient.” The rest of their conversation was lost to the night.
Julie looked at Eudora, her eyes shining in the darkness. The two stepped back onto the walk together and made their way back to the mansion. Eudora was deep in thought, Julie quiet beside her. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
When they returned, people were lining up for the buffet that had been laid out on the long dining table. Servers stood nervously behind the table, doling out piles of this and that on the guests’ plates as they moved by. Eudora recognized each and every one; they were an awkward group of young adults that she had often tutored through their secondary school days, just a few short years before. As she moved past them, they gave her lopsided smiles, and Julie funny little expressions that must have meant something—Julie had been one of their lot, before she had completely fallen in with Eudora, having grown tired of the meaningless discussions of the young.
“Eudora! Juliet!” The two looked up to see Amelia smiling and waving them over. They moved towards her, noticing that she was alone in a sea of her own guests. “Come dine with me, if you will.”
They settled together in the morning room, around a tiny table just perfect for three. It was beside a window that, during the daytime, would look out to the lake.
“This is my favorite place in the entire house.” said Amelia. She reached out her slender fingers to touch the sunshine yellow curtains that hung around the window. “This table, this window, these curtains. It’s a bit funny, don’t you think?”
“Oh, not at all!” said Julie. She too was feeling the curtains, which were so soft they slipped through her fingers like silk. “It’s the simplest things that are always the most beautiful.”
Eudora looked at her fondly. “Indeed,” was all she said.
“Eudora darling, are you at all interested in the theatre?” asked Amelia. “I have a great many of the classics lying around, and I think it would be wonderful to interpret them with another. You are remarkably well read, from what I’ve heard.”
“I am simply more interested in literature than most people in this town.” said Eudora. “Julie and I both, actually. But, yes, I am quite fascinated with the theatre. Perhaps we could establish our own scholarly club, the three of us!” she laughed, and Julie chuckled alongside her. Amelia smiled, watching them together.
“Miss Unger! Madame!” It was O’Mally, dancing into the room with a sloshing glass of something mapley-brown. “Our gracious hostess!”
The small crowd that milled about in the room turned at his presence and laughed, clapping as he pulled Amelia out of her chair and twirled her with his available hand.
“Dance with me!”
Amelia laughed, extracting herself from his grasp. When he made to pull her back, she whispered something to him, and left the room. A moment later she returned with a bottle of Very Old Fitzgerald, taking a moment to fill his now empty glass up to the brim. He gave her a wink, and a dramatic kiss on her hand, before turning to grab another woman from the crowd.
“What a fool. “ Eudora muttered, chuckling, as Amelia returned to their table. The room was getting crowded, so they moved back into the dining room. Some server mishap pulled Amelia to the basement cellar, while Julie and Eudora remained upstairs conversing in the corner.
Suddenly a scream ripped through the house, sharp as a blade and as chilling as a winter gust. The women looked to each other, terror mirrored on their faces. A second scream rang out, a message this time: “Dead! O’Mally dead!”
Their feet carried them quickly back into the morning room. A crowd was circled around a shape on the ground. Eudora pushed through, Julie just behind, to find Richie O’Mally upon the floor. His body lay as in a swoon, widely flung and free. One hand reached for the shards of his last drinking glass, the other carelessly tossed above his head. His face was still flushed with life, though slack; his eyes were empty.
“Away, you fools. Let a policeman through.” There appeared George McMillan, chief of police. He gazed sadly at the form before him, kneeling to check his pulse. Outside thunder rumbled and a flash of lightning prompted the screams of several women. Eudora felt the news ripple through the people behind her, and listened as the house steadily quieted. Raindrops could be heard now, at first lightly but quickly growing louder.
“It was that witch! That witch that gave him his drink!” The woman that O’Mally had claimed as his dance partner, just after Amelia, stood on a chair and shouted for their attention. “He was poisoned!”
Gasps were heard all around, and several glasses shattered on the floor. Eudora was glaring now with deep dislike at the woman.
“How dare you accuse Amelia here, in her own home?” She burst angrily.
There were more mutterings, as the people considered the women staring each other down. Julie eyed the other distrustfully. George McMillan shook his head, aghast.
“Now that really is an accusation, Mrs Cleveland! Please, we do not know the cause of Richie’s death yet, nor do we have any evidence proving Miss Unger’s culpability. No one should leave here until the detectives are called.” There was another flash of lightning, and the pounding of the rain grew to a roar just beyond the windows.
“Detectives, Mr. McMillan? Whatever for?”
There again sounded several gasps, as Amelia Unger entered the room. People hastily stepped back to let her pass into the center of the circle. Her startling eyes took in the death before her.
“Miss Unger, ma’am, there are suspicions that this man was murdered.” said Police Officer McMillan. His face was grimly set, but in his eyes there glittered a deep sorrow. Richie O’Mally may have been known to all as a drunk, but his company was humorous and he was to everyone kind.
“Murdered?” Amelia whispered, her eyes still locked on the dead man. “What was his name?”
“Richard—Richie to us all—O’Mally, ma’am.”
“And you think he was murdered?”
“There are suspicions, yes.”
There was a pause. Eudora watched Amelia desperately, and Julie in a sort of delicate confusion. There were mutterings beyond the circle, behind the silent ones. Eudora noticed Keswik slip in through the doors, and creep up just a few people down from where she stood. He was alone, and she could not see Mr Gale anywhere else in the room.
“Detectives, Mr McMillan? In this weather?” asked Miss Amelia. She had lifted her eyes, gazing through the window they had been sitting so peacefully at, just minutes before.
The policeman looked out the window, jumping slightly at the next bout of thunder.
“Why, yes, I would have thought—but if they’re previously engaged, and the storm—”
“May I ask why you believe he was murdered, Mr McMillan? He looks as though he could have suffered a heart attack.”
“Mr O’Mally drank from his glass, you see, a first sip from it, just before he died.” It was a timid voice from the back of the room. “There was foam at his mouth, Miss.” The person stepped forward, none other than Mrs Kruber.
“Yes, I saw it also. He had a kind of seizure, it seemed.” said Mr Kruber, who had stepped up beside his wife.
A general murmur of agreement sounded from the people Eudora and Julie had seen upon their entrance into the room. Eudora thought any moment someone would speak, would accuse Amelia again and perhaps gain the complete confidence of the crowd. But there was only a cold silence, so cold that her throat seemed to freeze from it.
“That is dreadful.” said Amelia, looking sadly again at O’Mally. “I am so sorry, I did not know. I feel I am responsible for this.” Her face had paled to an inhumane shade, and Eudora realized that her fingers were shaking ever so slightly.
“No.” Eudora said, her voice reverberating rather loudly off the walls. “You are not responsible for this murder unless you poisoned the bourbon yourself. Mr McMillan said that there is no proof, did he not?” McMillan nodded. “Until evidence is provided that proves her guilty, Amelia is as innocent as anyone else.”
“Of course.” said Mr McMillan. Some people nodded, but Eudora saw that the vast majority still looked on at Amelia in distrust. “I will call for a detective, but I believe any sort of investigation will be delayed until after the storm has passed.” He asked Amelia where to find the telephone and together they moved up the stairs to Amelia’s study. Kruber suggested that Keswik and a young man named Gilligan Dunn follow her and bring the body up to one of the bedrooms. They left the shards and spilled bourbon to themselves.
Several people took the opportunity to leave the mansion, braving the storm out to their cabs in desperation to return home. Eudora and Julie spoke in whispers in the dining room, while the remaining guests moved to converse in the entrance hall and sitting room. A few minutes later, Amelia appeared—having changed into a dull brown pantsuit—to address the crowd.
“Again, I am so terribly sorry about the death of your dear Richie. I hope that this disastrous party does not taint our relationship for the rest of my time here in Ambleside.” The people eyed one another, speaking silently the truth that everyone knew already: no one would ever forget this night and the fact that it would not have occurred without Miss Amelia Unger’s interference. “Officer McMillan told me to tell you all that you are free to return home. I am so sorry for your loss.” Before the mutterings could overtake her voice, she added, “All those in my employ for the night are also allowed to leave. If any of you are interested in a position, please see me when it is appropriate, once the investigation is over.”
And so the guests and servants left, anxious to escape the great mansion. Eudora and Julie remained behind, as did Mr Kruber and Keswik and Mr Rupert, who refused to leave Julie, who had refused to leave Eudora.
“Where is Officer McMillan?” asked Keswik, once the hall had quieted and emptied. Amelia eyed him before answering.
“He was still on the call when I left him. I am sure he will come to us when he is finished.” she said.
“Where is Mr Gale, Keswik?” asked Eudora. She was thinking, of course, of the conversation in the gardens she had heard. Julie stirred beside her.
“I do not know. Why should I?” he said.
“We saw you and Mr Gale out in the gardens, before…” Julie said, her voice wavering slightly. Mr Rupert placed his arm around her, as though this slight action would prevent her from any harm. Eudora could see that he was unhappy that she had refused to return home, but Julie was an adult and responsible for herself. She was also quite stubborn and felt that Eudora, though older and even more responsible than herself, needed her constant support. Eudora had insisted that she leave, but her words were somehow less effective than Mr and Mrs Rupert’s had been. Eventually, Mrs Rupert had left alone with the Dunns, disgruntled and worried for her family.
“He must have left with the crowd, then. We were separated when we returned inside.”
Something hid beneath his words. Eudora became aware that he was lying, or at least withholding a truth. Nothing could support this particular accusation, however, so she remained silent.
“The crime scene should remain untouched, or as close to that as possible.” Mr Kruber offered to the silence. “A party such as this is perfect to last the storm, until the investigators arrive. There are enough of us so that we can be absolutely sure that nothing is altered, even if the murderer is indeed among us.”
“Last the storm?” asked Rupert. “The murderer among us?” Julie squeezed his hand. “And if the storm lasts the night? We could all be in danger for several hours!”
Kruber nodded gravely. “That is a serious concern, I know. You can certainly leave if you like, Joe. Julie too, if that is her wish. I am afraid that less than six people is a bit unwise, however, so I sincerely hope that one of you remains.”
Though no words were spoken, the argument was quickly settled. Both Julie and Rupert would stay, totaling their party at seven.
“Where did you learn this? I was under the impression Mr McMillan was the only man of law in Ambleside.” asked Amelia.
Kruber blushed slightly, but spoke unabashed. “I admit I have read one too many murder stories, but my strategy is nothing more than common sense. If we all stay together through the night, no one will have the opportunity to alter the crime scene, if that is in fact their intention. There are enough of us so that one murderer or even a partnership is outnumbered, and even if there is an instance when we must separate this will still be the case.”
“You said less than six would be unwise? What if we were to separate into two groups and a partnership was in the same one? Would that not be two murderers against one?” asked Keswik, and Eudora was astonished to see something like amusement flicker in his eyes. Anger stabbed at her, but she was reminded that he could potentially be a killer, and so she again chose to remain silent.
“And what if there is a triad of murderers, or more?” asked Rupert, his hold on Julie growing tighter based on the pained look steadily intensifying upon her face.
“That would certainly be unfortunate, but I find it incredibly unlikely.”
“And why is that?” asked Eudora, unable to stop herself.
“Why, I have known all of you but two for a great deal of my life, and would never believe any of you to be capable of such a sin. Apologies, Miss Unger and Mr Keswik. Though I cannot say I believe you to be guilty either, as the murderer could have very well left with the rest.” He took a deep and shuttering breath. “As for a partnership in one group—well, I cannot promise that that is impossible, but again I find it rather unlikely that two of us would be murderers, and the instance where we might separate is not a likely one.”
Silence settled upon the group for a while, still awaiting the return of Mr McMillan. Amelia broke it after a time.
“Shall I put the kettle on?”
While Amelia went to the kitchen, the rest of the group moved into the sitting room at the back of the house. It felt as though they were abandoning their last chances of freedom the further they distanced themselves from the front doors. Eudora had a strange urge to laugh when she noticed that the sitting room, unlike both the morning and dining rooms, did not have a set of french doors for them to escape through, if the situation presented itself.
Amelia carried in a tray of crackers, cheese, and fancy floral china that clinked when she poured their glasses and stirred in milk and sugar. When Julie moved to take one of the cups, Rupert snatched her hand and held it tight, insisting that Amelia taste everything before any of the others.
They drank and ate in silence, no one even attempting to prompt conversation. Though Eudora’s tea was particularly sweet, she could not taste anything but the bitterness she had been rolling around on her tongue since she had first seen O’Mally’s dead body sprawled across the floor. The clock told her that it had been about twenty minutes. She pushed this thought away, letting her eyes wander. The empty cup that stood on the edge of the tray seemed to draw everyone’s attention.
“Perhaps we should check on him?” Keswik suggested.
“I agree.” said Kruber.
It was decided that everyone would go, led by Miss Amelia. Eudora was amazed at the true magnificence of the house, as they ascended slowly up the stairs. They passed each dark landing, getting quick glimpses of dimly lit rooms that were either sparsely furnished or entirely empty. Portraits hung darkly on the walls of people without any remarkable features; they left the sort of impression that an old and yellowed book without a title might. Some doors remained closed and urged her in their mystery to open them. But then the thought of Richie’s dead body, laid out carefully on a bed somewhere up there came vivid into her mind, and she lowered her eyes, walking with Mr Kruber before her and Julie just behind.
It was on the third and final floor before the attic that they turned off the landing and approached one of the closed doors. Amelia knocked upon it lightly, before turning the knob. It swung open to reveal the corpse of George McMillan, laid neatly on his back and with a knife embedded in his chest.
“Oh!” exclaimed Julie, and a moment later she had collapsed into Rupert’s arms. Eudora swallowed the bile that rose in her throat, eyeing the people that stood around her. Amelia was shaking, one hand placed delicately over her mouth, her eyes wide and shining with tears. Mr Kruber appeared to be holding back his dinner with great difficulty, and Keswik was frozen with his eyes upon the fallen officer. Whoever had killed him had arranged his arms so that they were crossed over his chest, around the hilt of the knife and over the stain of blood that seeped from it.
No one spoke for several minutes. Eudora felt the mistrust settling like a fog around them, each person putting up a guard for the rest. She grew uncomfortably aware of Mr Keswik’s presence so close to herself. She almost jumped when he spoke.
“I despise the man who states the obvious, but it is apparent that I must now do just that.” His voice rang in her ears. “Unger killed McMillan before he had the chance to alert the detectives.”
A soft whimper wrenched Eudora’s heart painfully. Amelia was still staring at the dead man; it was almost as though she could not hear the words of her accuser. Indeed she had, for a moment later she moved her tragic eyes to Keswik.
“Whatever rumors or suspicions you have heard about me, Mr Keswik, I am not a murderer.” Her voice shook, with rage or horror Eudora could not be sure, “And I left Mr McMillan after he had already called and informed the right people about this awful situation we all are in.”
“Then how do you explain the fact that you alone led him to the telephone, and here we find him exactly as you left him?” asked Rupert, his arms shaking around the unconscious Julie.
“Exactly as I left him? How would you know that? Anyone could have followed us here and waited for me to leave! Anyone! If I remember correctly Keswik himself arrived later than the rest when I apologized to my guests in the entrance hall.” The tears still glistened on her cheeks, but her voice was again steady and strong, and brimming with fury. “Perhaps it was you who killed him, Mr Keswik!”
“Really, you three! We must not lose sight of what is—” stuttered Mr Kruber.
“And who killed O’Mally? Of course, it could not be the woman that provided him the very poison that was his own undoing! Surely not!” Keswik cried.
“Any of the guests could have brought in that bourbon, Keswik.” Eudora snarled. “Yourself included. You see, Julie and I overheard a bit of your and Mr Gales’ conversation in the gardens.” The room hushed. For some reason Eudora felt she was betraying someone or some secret by telling the group what Keswik and Gale had said, but she did so anyway. Such information, she assured herself, was only for the good of the innocent.
“What on earth would I suspect you of, Mr Keswik?” Amelia asked him a few minutes later, her voice no louder than a whisper.
“And where is Mr Gale?” Eudora echoed herself.
It appeared as though Mr Keswik had become thoroughly unraveled; his hair, a short and sensible cut, was mussed; his eyes were ablaze with what looked to be frustration. He was the picture of panic; a still image of a man that seemed on the verge of insanity. But then the moment passed and he was composed again, and he still spoke with that same reedy and dangerously unaffected voice Eudora had grown accustomed to hearing from him.
“It sounds as though you heard very little of a conversation by no means open to your ears, Miss Schmuck. I have told you that I do not know where Mr Gale is, and if you choose now not to believe me I must first remind you of this: I could not have murdered Mr McMillan because I was, at the time he was presumably killed, moving the body of Mr O’Mally. Mr Kruber, if you remember, had instructed me to do this, Miss Schmuck witnessed me do this, and one Mr Gilligan Dunn in the village helped me to accomplish this. That is why I arrived to hear your address later than most.” He looked at Eudora, his gaze darkening ominously. “I know I have not earned the trust of Ambleside quite yet, but Amelia Unger has not either. I do not see a reason to suspect me any more than you suspect her.”
Mr Kruber shook his head, collapsing onto an armchair. They were in the study, which was brightly lit and full of lavish furniture. A great mahogany desk stood in the center, papers scattered across its surface, and an empty wine bottle sitting precariously on the corner.
“You did not answer my question.” said Amelia.
Across the room it looked as though the double murder was simply too much for Mr Kruber. He rested his head in his hands, with his elbows upon his knees. Eudora suspected he had stopped listening to their accusations.
“Your question?” asked Keswik, dabbing his eyes and forehead tiredly with a yellowed handkerchief. “Ah, yes. What could you possibly suspect me of, if not murder?” He smiled at her, his eyes almost as cold as Mr McMillan’s were. “Robert Gale and I are business partners. We were interested in purchasing this mansion as a business project, but of course you got to it first.” His smile vanished entirely. “We were planning on using simple methods of flattery to buy it from you, tonight, but Gale did not have faith in our plan. He thought you suspected our approach, and was foolishly frightened of the possibility. Do not ask me why he acted so. We only very recently became partners. I cannot say I know him very well.”
Amelia’s eyes flashed. She looked at Eudora then, and they shared a simple nod to the truth: Keswik was lying.
“What sort of business project were you planning for this place?” Asked Eudora. Keswik chuckled.
“I hardly think that’s important.” The women glared at him. He sighed, grumbling, “A hotel of sorts. It could be quite an attraction.”
Amelia narrowed her eyes.
“A mechanic and a shopkeeper. What an unlikely pair.”
“People meet each other in all sorts of ways.” Keswik said.
Whether it was the murder, or the lateness of the hour, or perhaps the healthy amounts of alcohol each one of them had consumed, but no one felt much like talking anymore. Eudora knew the matter was not at all settled, but it was simply too much to force an argument they were not quite strong enough to engage in.
Someone suggested they move the body. The group left the room in a solemn procession, Keswik and Rupert carrying the late Mr. McMillan in front, followed closely by Amelia, Kruber, Eudora, and lastly a feeble Julie that had only just awoken.
They laid him on the sofa across from Richie’s bed, in the bedroom on the second floor that had transformed into a strange and utterly humorless parody of a morgue. It was a dreary sight; the lamplights cast shadows across the faces of the deceased, which were tilted upward and pallid with death, while portraits hung around them and glared at the disturbers that stood hesitant by the door. They had removed the dagger from McMillan’s chest, Kruber directing them (from a distance) on keeping the evidence intact. Once it had been placed carefully on a side table, everyone left the room hurriedly, painted eyes watchful behind them.
They convened in the sitting room. A steady quiet fell upon them, as the storm raged furiously outside, and the clock ticked on the wall. The time was ten thirty four. Julie laid her head on a pillow, and soon sleep swept her loveliness away from the darkness of the hour. Eudora sat beside her, and Rupert stood behind.
In silence passed the next hour. Seconds blurred together, each one more suspenseful and tiresome than the last. It must have been around twelve o’ clock when Eudora felt the cushion beside hers sink slightly. She looked to see electric blue eyes staring earnestly into her own.
Amelia smelled of a spring garden, with a subtle hint of lemon. Her hair fell tangled, reaching only to rest upon her shoulders. Eudora noted how the woman managed to appear even more beautiful then than she had earlier, when she was sheathed in a shimmering evening gown, her hair twisted elegantly behind her head. Amelia cleared her throat nervously, before parting her lips to speak.
“It seems so unfair that my arrival here will be forever branded by this terrible night.” She spoke no louder than a whisper; Eudora suspected she did not want the inevitably hostile notice of the others. “Though I will not blame them, if they hate me for this.”
Eudora considered this.
“I think that once the murderer is caught, they will forget all about your role tonight.” She brushed a stray hair away from Julie’s face, before moving her hand beside Amelia’s in a comfortably distant gesture of support. Amelia eyed it with a small smile that lit her eyes with a silver flame.
“I do not understand you. Would it not be so much easier to suspect me? The others do. But you don’t.” Her eyes came up once again, flickering with desperation. Eudora knew in that moment that she was the only one that would defend Amelia Unger in an investigation against her.
“The truth is an important thing, Amelia. Sometimes, it may hide itself using ugly means, but that makes it no less important to discover.”
They sat together, basking in each other’s comfort, for at least another hour. Keswik began to pace when the clock chimed one. Kruber had also given in and was dozing on an armchair across from Julie, Eudora, and Amelia. Eudora noted how he had abandoned his careful plan of maintaining constant watch over the crime scene. Then again, she thought to herself, at least he had not returned home. Rupert remained vigilant as ever, casting dark glances at both Keswik and Amelia every few minutes.
At one-twenty-eight, the power went out. There was a sound, almost like the click of a lamp, and then a sudden swoosh of darkness. The clock ticked on the wall, while winds wailed just outside.
Eudora’s first instinct was to grasp Amelia’s hand. It was ice cold in her own. In the next moment she shook Julie’s warm body beside hers, feeling as the girl stirred and sat up.
“Eudora?” She whispered, her voice gravelly from sleep.
“Shh.” She reached over to take Julie’s hand, feeling strangely like a mother holding tightly onto her two daughters. She felt that something was bound to happen while they were sitting there, vulnerable in the dark.
“Is everyone here?” asked Kruber, from across the room.
“Yes.” said Amelia and Eudora at once. Julie mumbled something, and Rupert spoke from behind them.
“Mr Keswik?” Kruber prompted, but no one answered. There were a few moments of silence, broken only by the heavy pounding Eudora felt in her chest. She wondered if any of the others could hear it.
“We need to see.” Rupert finally said.
“There are some candles,” said Amelia, “In the drawer of the side table, by the window.”
There were a few heavy steps, a thud, and a curse. Everyone listened intently to the sound of a drawer opening, objects clinking and rolling and scraping as Rupert fished inside. Finally, an “Aha!”, and several more steps back to the tea table, where they had pushed aside the forgotten tray from hours before. Clink, clink, clink, clink. Four candles, Eudora thought, for six people.
“Here, Joe. I can light them.” Kruber stumbled over toward the table, igniting a match along the way. “I always keep a pack in my pocket.” Light bloomed from their hands as they lit each candle, settling around the room as they placed them on four different surfaces. Eudora looked into the faces of Kruber, Amelia, Rupert, and Julie—each with their own clumsily hidden expressions of terror. Keswik was nowhere to be seen.
“This is too much. Julie and I are going home.” said Rupert, once everyone had settled.
“I am not going home unless Eudora goes home.” Julie said immediately. Her voice lashed out like a whip in the dim lighting. Her eyes were narrowed, a clear blue as serene as the summer sky, while her mouth was set in a firm line. The young woman was sitting so straight and composed you would not have thought that only a few minutes ago she had been sound asleep on the sofa.
“Julie,” Eudora said, squeezing her hand, “You know that you cannot stay here.”
“No, I don’t, actually.” The woman shot back.
“Julie,” Eudora spoke slower, a frown forming on her face.
“How can you not see the hypocrisy of this? ‘Julie, you must go home because I love you, and I would not want to see you hurt’. You do not consider my reaction if something were to happen to you. What you think is selflessness is really selfishness! I cannot stand it, Eudora, when you speak to me as though I were a child! Really—”
“Julie!” The young woman broke off her tirade with a somewhat shocked expression. Eudora rarely raised her voice so, and it was also rather strange to see her look so angry. “I hope you realize that you are still a child, Juliet. But that is not what I wish to say. I should think that everyone can see how this little endeavor has quite gotten out of hand. The evidence is not worth our lives. I think we should all leave, together, while we still can.”
The others had been watching them quietly, two women that looked so different, and yet argued like sisters. It took a moment for them to realize that Eudora was now addressing them. Rupert curtly nodded and stood up, reaching for a candle. Amelia and Eudora did the same, while Julie and Kruber watched, concerned.
“What about Mr Keswik?” asked Kruber.
“I am afraid he must be the killer, Mr Kruber.” said Eudora.
“We don’t know that.” said Julie. “He didn’t hurt any of us when the power went out.”
“Where is he, then?” asked Amelia.
It seemed natural for all of them to turn to Rupert, who was returning from the drawer of the side table, one more candle in his hand. When he saw that they were looking at him, he raised his eyebrows incredulously and shrugged, somewhat awkwardly. He handed the candle to Julie, who took it without quite noticing what she was doing. They then turned their attention back to the candles, and the doorway, which they thought any moment would admit a murderous Keswik.
As if to satisfy their suspicions, a moment later there sounded a crash from out in the hallway. Before they could process this, the door into the sitting room slammed shut.
Five people stood frozen, each clutching a candle in one of their trembling hands. Eudora allowed herself to imagine, for just a moment, their image from the perspective of an outsider. Perhaps, she mused, it would have been comical. But then it could also have been beautifully terrifying; five people perfectly still in watching the closed door, awaiting the looming darkness of their own deaths.
“Should we look?” asked Julie, from behind Eudora.
“I think so, yes.” said Kruber.
No one moved.
“I think only a few of us should go.” said Eudora. “Julie, Amelia—if you two could just wait here—”
“Oh, not this again.” muttered Julie.
“Quiet, Juliet. I agree with Eudora.” said Rupert. “But I do not think you should be alone with Amelia. She can come with us, Mr Kruber can stay with you.”
“Why do I even bother voicing my opinion?” Julie grumbled in irritation. It seemed as though the decision had been made.
“I do not think it would be wise to leave Julie so alone, with only me to protect her.” Said Mr Kruber. It did not look as though he was afraid—Eudora knew he was not a coward—rather it seemed he was incredibly tired. She had never quite thought of the man as old, but Eudora suddenly noticed the lines that were dug deeply into his face, around his eyes and his mouth. His hair, which she always seemed to picture in her mind as a peppery black, had almost fully faded to gray. And he had begun recently to walk, she realized, with a crooked posture. The man should not have been there. He had a wife who loved him dearly, and he was out so late in a murder mansion that could quite possibly prevent him from escaping in one piece.
“Perhaps you are right, Mr Kruber.” She said, shocked at her own inattentiveness to a man she had known and respected since childhood. It seemed prudent that they escape right then, if only to save his life, and certainly Julie’s.
“Mathew, you know that I would trust you with my daughter’s life.” Said Rupert.
Kruber closed his eyes, clearly steeling himself to say something he perhaps did not wish to say.
“Even if that is true, I cannot say I trust myself.” He said.
“Why is it that I always find myself silent in conversations that are solely based upon me?” Julie cut in, her eyes furious. Eudora noticed a flicker of amusement cross Amelia’s face. A second later, the woman decided to speak up, her face solemn again (though Eudora could still see the laughter confined gracefully to her eyes).
“Would it not be reasonable for all of us to go, together? I was raised to know that there is strength in numbers, after all.” She said. Julie nodded eagerly, giving Amelia a quick “thank you” glance, before turning to her father.
“Strength in numbers, father.” She said, her eyes wide and innocent. Amelia smiled again, and Eudora could not stop herself from doing the same. It was strange to share such a funny moment of companionship with her newest and oldest friends at once, in a time that was by far the darkest in the span of her rather short life.
The front doors were closed, and yet the entrance hall was frigid, and the storm raged louder than it had in the sitting room. Eudora shivered as a draft of wind washed over her, and felt Amelia do the same beside her. Mr Rupert led them carefully on, until they saw with the light of their candles the shards of glass on the ground. The window beside the oak doors had shattered, most likely from some storm debris that had been thrown forcefully against the house. A sudden gust of wind blew out all of their candles, and they were plunged into darkness.
There were few moments in her life where Eudora had felt the same amount of terror as she had in that moment. It was so cold in the hallway, and the rain from outside was rushing in with the wind whistling behind. She felt for Amelia beside her, and Julie simultaneously behind, so terrified she could not find a voice to call their names. She only grasped at air. And then, somehow sounding above the storm, she heard a grunt behind her and a thud against the floor.
Her candle fell, glass shattering as it hit the cold tile. She turned so quickly she did not even register the sound, only a sharp sting in her leg as one of the pieces cut into it. Five, ten, fifteen steps to the door on the left. They had closed it, she remembered, and it took precious seconds for her to find the knob and turn, finally collapsing into the sitting room and shutting the door quickly behind her.
It was dark, of course. Eudora has forgotten her lack of light in her fear. There was little she could do but crawl upon the rug, steadily around furniture until she thought she found the little table that held the candles. At one point she smacked her head painfully on the leg of the tea table, and then she tripped and fell onto the sofa in her disorientation. It was a while before she felt the wall, and above where the window sill curved out to meet her fingers. She used the sill to lift herself off the ground, before stepping carefully to the right and bumping into what had to be the candle table.
It was a smooth handle that she grasped; she grabbed it and rolled the drawer open as quickly as she could, without a sound. There was a great assortment of useless things, she thought, as she felt around for a little glass with wax and wick inside. Every time one item clinked loudly against another she cringed, sucking in a quick breath of fear, pausing, listening, before returning to her search. It must have been two minutes of rummaging before she cursed softly and gave in.
Eudora gasped, turning quickly on the spot. She could only see the vague outline of a human form before her, but she thought she had recognized the voice to be Kruber’s.
“Mr Kruber?” She asked, terrified to be wrong. After all, it was not any woman’s voice she had heard a few moments before.
“My dear, are you alright?”
“Perfectly fine, thank you. I dropped my candle,” She began to move towards him.
“I have mine right here. I think I left my matches somewhere around here…” She felt for the arm of the sofa in front of her, using it to guide her around it and over to Mr Kruber. He was bent, she made out, searching for something on the table. “Ah, yes. Here they are.”
There was a spark, and then Mr Kruber’s face was revealed. He lit his candle, slipping the matches back into his pocket and giving Eudora a rue smile. He wordlessly placed the light in her hand.
“Shall we look, then?”
Together they made their way back out into the entrance hall. Eudora could not stop hearing that sickening thud from minutes before. One of their party was injured—perhaps, she thought darkly, dead. It had been pure panic and adrenaline that had brought her back into the sitting room, when her friends were still trapped outside. Eudora felt her face grow warm in the cold. She was ashamed to have so quickly cowered in a crucial moment. If Julie or Amelia or Mr Rupert was dead, Eudora knew that in some twisted way, it would be her fault.
“Eudora, down here.”
The flame licked furiously as Eudora quickly lowered it to the ground. A face flickered in the light, wrinkled and worn but still flushed with youthful warmth. Mr Rupert’s eyes were closed, and blood trickled down from a cut on his eyebrow onto his cheek, down the side of his face, dripping off his right ear and onto his nice button shirt. Without pausing to think Eudora put down her candle and felt for his pulse; first his wrist, but she struggled to find it and gave in, with so little time; then his throat, where she felt it fluttering dangerously soft beneath his skin. She sighed with relief, her heart beating so fast she thought it might burst from her chest.
A muffled cry of relief came from somewhere behind her.
“We should move him.” said Mr Kruber. He placed a shaking hand on Eudora’s shoulder. “It’s deathly cold out here.”
Mr Kruber and Eudora took Rupert’s legs and arms and dragged him as carefully as they could into the sitting room. They laid him gently on one of the couches, Kruber perching on the edge of the tea table so that he could get a closer look at the wound, though this was difficult in the dim light. Eudora returned to the door to close it, hesitating as she stared into the hallway.
“Amelia?” she whispered, her voice almost silent in the din that was still crashing through the broken window. “Julie?”
They had not seen either woman—or their bodies—in their short trip towards the front doors and back, but Eudora wondered what lay in the shadows of the stairwell, or the kitchen, or the other rooms. Really, there was an entire mansion of rooms where they might lay, bleeding to death, dead, or held against their will.
Eudora glanced back at the two men, familiar to her eyes, and wondered. Rupert was still unconscious, his breath coming in short rasps. Kruber was muttering under his breath, his handkerchief soaking up the blood that was still flowing undisturbed from Rupert’s forehead. She wondered for a moment what Rupert might think if he was conscious.
Without another thought she slipped from the room, closing the door quietly behind her so as to not disturb the others.
It was a struggle to reach the stairwell, but she did it eventually. Each room she passed along the way was empty; she could not see into them, exactly, but heard that there were no people moving about inside. She felt the curve of the banister as it reached the tile floors, grasping it tightly so that she might not fall as she felt for the first step.
“Julie?” whispered Eudora, creeping steadily up the stairs. She stepped carefully off the landing onto the second floor, taking in the hall before her with eyes steadily adjusting to the dark. “Amelia?” Her voice carried to the end of the hall, and fell flat against the closed doors. As she moved, however, she noticed that one door stood open. It was the room across from the morgue. Tiptoeing she approached it, scarcely breathing as she peeked around the corner.
As her sight adjusted to the room, she noticed a slumped figure against the far wall. It did not appear to be moving. With a deep breath she stepped forward through the doorway, into another one of the bedrooms.
“Julie?” Eudora stared at the figure, forgetting to survey the rest of the room. “Amelia?”
The figure did not answer.
Hesitantly Eudora continued forward, until she was standing right in front of the person. They were definitely not conscious. With a jolt Eudora recognized the cut of the hair on top of the person’s head, just barely through the dark.
He moved his head.
In a panic Eudora scrambled backwards, tripping over her dress and falling to the floor. She scurried further on the ground, barely sparing a glance back at Keswik’s form. When she reached the door, panting hard, she managed to turn back to him. He was still slumped on the wall, but his head was lifted, and he was groaning. And then, so very weak, he spoke:
Eudora paused, looking at him.
“Yes?” she asked, her voice almost as feeble as his. His head dropped back onto his chest, and she thought he had passed out. But then, he groaned again and lifted it once more. Eudora could now make out his face, ever so slightly. His expression was entirely defeated, and she fleetingly wondered why. His eyes shone, droplets of black in a pool of white, though Eudora knew in the light they were a dark, seaweed green. Slowly she crept back towards him, on her hands and knees.
“Keswik?” she prompted. In response, he lifted a trembling hand. Something gleamed through his fingers.
His head dropped again, and his hand fell with it. The gleaming thing rolled across the floor, spinning to a stop directly before Eudora. Without looking at it, she picked it up and finally stood to rush over to Keswik’s side. Quickly she felt his neck, his wrist. And then, so close to him, she finally noticed the blood that had soaked through his shirt and coat, and coated his hands. Joshua Keswik was dead.
Eudora was not sure what she felt. Shock, surely. Frustration? Perhaps, satisfaction? Yes, that must have been it. Keswik was the murderer. She knew it. Who else could it have been? He must have killed himself, as so many terrible people do, when their conscience takes over. Of course it would have, after he had murdered two people!
At that moment she looked at his chest and saw that there was no knife. No weapon at all. But there was a wound—a knife wound, it looked like. How had he stabbed himself without a knife? She looked around them, searching for a glint or small shape on the ground. Suddenly she remembered that she was holding something in her hand. It was the thing that Keswik had dropped, just after he had tried to give it to her.
Slowly she opened her hand and looked down at the object that lay across her palm. Her stomach felt as though it were shrinking in on itself, writhing with disbelief of the truth that lay before her. In Eudora’s palm there lay a small silver badge. Stamped across it were the words: METROPOLITAN POLICE
No, no, no.
It could not be. It was not possible. Eudora remembered the conversation Keswik had shared with Mr Gale.
Keswik was the murderer. That was simply the truth. Nothing could change Eudora’s mind on that matter. Gale had disappeared—perhaps he had been the true murderer, acting on Keswik’s orders. The two were partners, and partners always killed each other. At least they always seemed to in the films. That was why there was no knife. For some reason Gale had decided to kill his partner. The badge meant nothing. It was false, a lie. Who else could have killed O’Mally and McMillan?
Her thoughts were muddled, tumbling this way and that, too fast for her to understand. She stumbled to her feet, fingers latched impossibly tight around the badge. She could not stand to be in that room for any longer. Without thinking, she rushed back into the hallway and onto the landing. She turned to go upstairs, guided by something beyond her control. Words and images flitted through her mind, but there was only one word that stood out amongst them all.
“Julie!” Eudora whispered urgently. She tripped over a step in her haste to reach the next floor, and fell. Luckily she caught herself before tumbling down the entire flight, and pulled herself back up on her feet. “Julie!”
A moment later and she was on the landing, staring into the darkness of the third floor. A heavy silence pressed upon her.
Suddenly a match ignited in the study across the hall. Eudora watched as Julie lit a candle, and another one, and then turned to search the room for something. Amelia was standing directly behind her, in the doorway. Julie was unarmed. Amelia held a knife at her side. Eudora opened her mouth to shout to them, to yell or scream. The murderer, who wasn’t Keswik, must’ve been nearby. Gale, she was sure, must have been nearby.
It was a shift in Amelia’s posture that stayed Eudora’s scream. She was at first relaxed, the knife hanging loosely in her fingers. But then, a muscle twitched in her arm, and her grip seemed to tighten on the knife. She took one step, almost hesitant. She balanced precariously on her forward foot while Eudora watched completely frozen, her breath caught in her throat. And then, while a buffet of rain hammered on the walls and windows around them, Amelia moved forward and plunged the knife into Julie’s back, in one slick and elegant motion.
There was a scream that rang out in the night. It was terribly sharp, cutting through the din of the storm with the cleanliness of a knife through butter. Eudora heard it so loudly in her ears. She wished it would stop. She wished everything could stop, so that she might lay down and drift away, and sleep. But it did not. Her throat burned, and her mouth was dry and open. In a blast of cold realization she snapped her lips shut, and the screaming abruptly broke off. Amelia was standing closer to her, closer than she thought she had been just seconds ago. Or was it minutes?
“Eudora...Eudora. My darling, I know. I am so sorry.” The woman reached out her pale fingers to caress Eudora’s shaking shoulders. “She tried to kill me, you know. I had to protect myself. I did not think.” Her eyes, so blue they burned through the darkness of the hallway, were filled with tears. It was strange to see those eyes leak so clear, when they were little oceans that churned the darkest and most silver blue waters. So blue, so blue. Eudora’s heart twisted painfully at the sight.
“She would have killed me.” Amelia said.
Eudora began to walk. Shaking legs carried her to the doorway of the study. Julie lay on the ground, face forward; the hilt of a knife was lodged in the spot directly between her shoulder blades.
A wine bottle stood on the very edge of the desk. Amelia moved behind her.
“Julie could never kill anyone.” Eudora said, as she touched the bottle, and grasped it. The badge, which she had been gripping onto for dear life, slipped from her fingers.
There was suddenly a sharp pain in her head—something had hit it forcefully. She twisted as the impact carried her to the ground, the bottle still close in her arms. Her landing was not soft, and something seared in her shoulder. Above her stood Amelia. Eudora noticed then that her eyes were too blue. Much too blue. They were like flames—scorching, twisting, blistering. And they were not as she had seen them before. They were as everyone must have always seen them, but she had refused to. They were the eyes of a devil, burning with so much hatred Eudora was for a moment baffled that she had not noticed it before.
“You know, Julie is not as beautiful as you think.” said the woman. “She is just like O’Mally. Do you not see that he is a drunk?” The knife was dripping, Eudora saw, with must have been Julie’s blood. Who else’s blood was coated on there? Surely Keswik’s. Perhaps it was even the same knife that had taken Mr McMillan. “You fools always flock to the ungrateful ones. You love the people that are beautiful. But surely you know, my darling, that the beautiful people are always the most shallow? Surely you see that, Eudora?” In that moment the eyes melted into what Eudora had known them to be. “Fool.” she heard the woman say, her voice soft and sad.
And then, Amelia lunged downward, aiming the knife in a beautiful arc surely intended, Eudora thought fleetingly, to pierce the very center of her chest.
It was unclear what happened next. Eudora must have rolled out of the way, or Amelia tripped. In a blur of color Eudora found herself on top of a writhing woman, smashing an empty bottle of wine over a head of dark and shiny black hair that gleamed in the light of the candles. The woman stopped moving, and lay still, as Eudora crawled to the spot where Julie lay on the floor.
It was difficult to roll her over, but Eudora managed it. Julie’s face was pale, her eyes closed. Eudora had seen so much death that night, and every corpse she had found had been lying with their cold eyes open. But Julie was still warm, and her eyelids were delicately shut—just as they had been only a few hours before, when she had been resting on the sofa in the sitting room, her head upon a pillow and her hair flung about like golden silk. It was still so, but the ends of her hair had mingled with the blood that pooled on her dress, and the precious silk was stained.
Eudora collapsed, her head falling lightly upon Julie’s still chest. Her eyes stared blankly at the wall, her lips parting only just to release their last breath of tormented sanity. Blood seeped around her, soaking through her evening dress and clinging to her loosened hair, lying lank across her shoulders.
On the other side of the room Amelia lay unconscious. Her face was beautiful in its stillness, her eyelids blessedly shielding the frightful vividness of her eyes. The knife that had taken Julie’s life was cast just a few inches from her reaching fingers. Blood was splattered all over her arms and hands. Her hands—like pale and slender spiders. Her fingers twitched like a spider’s legs.
The rain relinquished some as the thunder died at last. Several cars pulled into the drive. Mr Gale stepped out of the first, approaching the oak front doors and followed closely by a group of tall and smartly dressed men. They pulled from their coats revolvers, eying the building with distrust. From their midst there carried an urgent whisper: “Where is he? Keswik...Detective Keswik.”
Down the hill and across the Windermere, the village of Ambleside sprawled beneath a soft pitter patter of rain. Night grasped desperately at every tree and building, field and gate. Then suddenly the clouds parted, and the full moon shone out to sprinkle the lake with silver. There crossed over the water a company of geese, gleaming through the thin sheet of rain. At the top of the hill, the Maverick Estates sparkled in moonlight for a single pristine and peaceful moment. Then the moon disappeared again, and all it had canvased vanished in the night. The shower eventually subdued to a gentle drizzle, until the sky lightened in the east, and it ceased entirely.