North Alabama’s Writer’s Group
Writing Round Robin Exercise
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Murder, Love, & Romance
By Christopher M. Palmer, Jessica Donegan, Zach Stanfield, and Patrick O’Kelley
Beatrice Lochley pulled her robe tightly across her sleeping gown. It was morning at Kimberley Manor and the warm sun was streaming through the bedroom window. She walked to the balcony, overlooking the rolling green grounds. Her grandfather’s Greek temple folly on the hill framed the morning sun like a druidic henge, casting long shadows over the gravel drive. The gardeners were busy in the flower beds, trimming dead blooms and weeds. Soon it would be time for breakfast. She listens to the maids making their way through the halls, but they knew from prior unpleasant surprises not to disturb her. She returned to the room, careful to avoid looking at the canopied bed. There was a little wine left in the carafe on the nightstand and she poured it into a crystal glass and downed it with a grimace.
The washbasin would be cold until they brought it warmed water, but it would have to do. Cold water worked best for bloodstains, or so she’d heard. She removed the robe, not looking down at the bloodstained gown underneath. She dropped it as well and washed. Blood coated her hands and chest and throat, but a few drops had made it onto her face. When Beatrice finished cleaning the worst areas, she wadded up the bloody towel, gown, and the stained robe and shoved them under the bed.
As she leaned against the bed, Harry’s cold hand fell outside the curtain. Beatrice shuddered and grasped it, moving the husk from sight again. She had loved him, once, but now she felt numb of all feelings. No love. No guilt. No fear of what would happen to her now although she had no idea how this would play out.
After a moment’s reflection, she retrieved the bloody clothes and dressed in them again, then reached through the curtains to where his bloodied body was hidden and smeared herself with blood. One quick look around the room and she crossed to the door, opened it, screamed at the top of her lungs, and collapsed sobbing.
Maids rushed from both left and right sides of the hall. A pitcher of fresh warm water shattered, forgotten on the marbled floors. Beatrice smells heavy herbal tea and greasy bacon. It mixed with Henry’s dry clotted blood in strange and stomach turning ways.
The first maid, Anges, knelt beside Beatrice and tentatively reached out her warm arm. Beatrice leaned into the warmth, shaking and crying. She was enjoying the body heat even if she didn’t otherwise appreciate the liberties Beatrice took to make contact. Nothing this morning, or most of the past evening had been warm. From blood damp bed sheets to her small attempts to wash. Chill surrounded her and radiated from a once loving heart.
“Help,” Beatrice pleads, a detached part of her is proud at how many tears she’s produced and how much her voice quavers. There was a reason Henry had always indulged her whims, and it wasn’t because he’d suspected the end he’d meet if he denied her.
Anges shushes her and pulls her closer. She’s spent around fifteen years in service to Beatrice’s family. She knows what her concerns need to be if she plans to stay employed.
“What are you all gaping at!” Anges demands. “You call the authorities, there’s been a catastrophe. Dalia and Andrew, clean this mess you’ve all made, and Grason, prepare the spare bedroom at once! Draw a bath for Miss Lochly. She’ll need to wash and some strong tea,” Anges proclaims.
Strong sure hands grip Beatrice now. They help steady her as she rises. Beatrice wants to tilt her head like a curious kitten. Who would have dreamed Agnes could be so strong and sure of herself? A woman of her late sixties, she’s demure and quiet. Always lingering around the edges of Beatrice’s life. Taking empty dishes, cleaning dirty rugs, stoking fires. Anges is useful, but never worth a second thought. Now, comparing her firm certain grip to the tepid last struggles of Henry, she wonders what attracted her to that man. That a servant woman commands such presence when Henry barely made his last moments memorable. Henry gave up long before Beatrice struck her killing blow, accepting his death the same way he accepted an unsightly gift. It was good she’d ended his misery. Maybe with Henry gone and this unsightly murder behind her, Beatrice would return some sense of control to her life. She’d no longer have to entreat anyone to fund her hobbies or clothes. The manor and all its funds would be hers. An unforeseen gift.
Anges led Beatrice to the far side of the manor. A rarely aired out section the family only uses for holiday visitors. Beatrice hiccups and wrinkles her nose at the old dust and imagined mold. She takes a few shuddering breaths. Sobbing lost its charm almost as soon as she took it up. Swollen tired eyes isn’t a look someone of her station should try. Beatrice’s throat is hot and itchy from the screams. Her body is tight with the tension caused from the pantomimed trembling. It’s all so tedious.
“Please,” Beatrice whispers.
“Hush now Miss, we’re almost there. Soon you can rest your bones in a nice warm bath. And I’ll bring hot tea with lemon and honey, for your throat. Your mother alway did warn you against such hysterics,” Agnes chides.
Captain Jonah Batson arrived just as Beatrice dropped her wet towel to put her evening clothes on. The thrill and the shock of her murderous action is wearing off and softer tender emotions are taking over. Beatrice’s hands tremble, and she wonders, what’s next. Agnes knocks at the door of the guest bedroom, and Beatrice jumps. Her nerves can’t take all this uncertainty.
“Miss Beatrice, Capt. Batson is here. He would like to have a word with you.”
“Just a minute.”
Beatrice finished dressing, relaxed her breathing, and reached the door just as another knock came. The door opened.
“Excuse me, miss. Sorry for the intrusion but we must be getting on with this case.”
“No, no. I understand. I’m sorry. I am still a tad bit shaken as you might imagine. Henry and I have been together for a good number of years and this is a complete shock to me.”
“Oh, believe me Miss Lochley, I understand. But if we may, I’d like to ask you a few questions before I visit the scene.”
“You haven’t been to the room yet?”
“No ma’am. Based on my previous experiences, I like to get a first hand account of the situation from the witnesses if there are any. So what can you tell me about the events of last night and this morning?”
Beatrice hesitated. She had thought she would have more time. Her story was foolproof but her performance might be the deal breaker.
“Alright. Last night was like any normal night. Nothing extraordinary happened. However, around midnight I…”
A scream pierces the air, interrupting Beatrice’s stilted performance. Batson tears out of the room leaving Beatrice behind. Another scream. Beatrice rises and begins to follow Batson. What now? Had one of the servants stumbled in on Henry’s body? No, they would know to avoid that room. Beatrice’s nerves feel raw and tender. She’s doesn’t have the endurance for so much intrigue.
Batson arrives to the master bedroom where the body still lies. At the window, Agnes stares down to the courtyard below, pointing down and sobbing. Batson rushes to meet her gaze.
“Now Ma’am, there’s no reason to be so close to the open window, please come inside,” he coaxes, approaching her as a well meaning man may head towards a wounded deer. Beatrice stands transfixed in the doorway. Why did Anges venture to this room ahead of the Constable’s investigation?
Anges shakes her head, loosing a sob. She looks past Batson to Beatrice, and as their eyes meet, Beatrice is certain she knows exactly how Henry’s bloody corpse came to lounge in the master bed. But she doesn’t have any time to react because Anges turns and dives toward the walkway below.
Agnes prostate body caressed the stone. Blood dribbled down the crease of her mouth and into the lawn. Captain Batson peered up to the second floor and back at Ms. Agnes.
“Gather up the rest of members of the estate until further notice.”
Moments later, Captain Batson circles the body. He rolls her upward to face the sky and delicately shuts her eyes. A refraction of light showed from her hands. She clutched a locket, its chain winds around her wrist. Batson unclasped the piece. Inside were two adolescent photos of Henry. He was dressed down in light slacks and shirt. He affected no smile and stared ahead. Batson clasped it shut and returned to Beatrice.
She wept in the parlor. A few others stood by around tending to her sobs, trying to placate the tender spasms of air she sucked in. Batson dismissed the others and faced her.
“How long was Ms. Agnes attendant to Henry?”
Beatrice dabbed at the tears.
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