She could hear the footsteps on the wooden staircase now. She put down the book softly.
Who was it? Who dared to venture out on this rainy night? A visitor? An intruder?
Her mind whirled. She did not expect any visitor(s). That too, at such an hour!
Suddenly, there was an eerie silence. She looked out of the window. The big tree in the courtyard cast its hideous shadow on the doorway, obscuring anything within her sight. She could only see the moon trying its best to release itself from the captivity of the dark sky and show its beauty to the world.
Everyone seemed to have stopped their worldly activities and were huddled in their homes.
She could hear nothing. ‘Not a soul! Eerie!’ thought Rose.
As she stood looking out of my window, trying to calm herself, she felt a cold hand on her shoulder. Startled, she whirled around. A black hooded figure stood in front of her. A scream rose from within her throat. It died down without her permission.
Sensing her discomfort, the figure slowly removed his dark hood to reveal fair skin beneath. Strangely, she could relate his appearance to the moon behind the dark clouds.
‘Miss Rose, good to see you.’, he spoke finally.
Oh! It was Mr Becker! The millionaire! The charmer! The great Mr Becker himself at her humble residence!
She collected herself suitably before she spoke. ‘Mr. Becker, you gave me quite a start.’
Mr Becker smiled, a bit of sneer she noticed in it. ‘Well, that’s quite surprising to hear. I thought the great detective Miss. Rose hardly gets perturbed by anyone or anything.’
‘Oh yes, I do! Especially when someone as important as you has walked a long way to meet me.’
It was Mr Becker’s turn to get startled. He swallowed uncomfortably and spoke in a low-throated voice. ‘How did you ever guess that?’
She pointed to the mud on his boots that had left an ugly impression on her squeaky-clean floor.
He looked at her unabashedly.
‘Well, it’s important, Miss Rose. I need your help to solve a case- for a personal tragic incident that happened recently.’ The urgency in his voice affirmed the importance of the matter about to land on her hands.
‘Another case! Lots more action! Lots more excitement! Lovely!’ She smiled to herself. ‘Out with it! Mr Becker’ I am all ears.’ she spoke aloud.
‘Well, I need your help. You must come with me to my ancestral home in Yorkshire.’
‘Really? And pray, why should I take this sudden trip with you?’
‘You must have heard about the murder of my sweetheart three days before, Miss Rose.’
‘Ah yes! Indeed! Moonlight!’
She had read about the killing in the papers the day before and laughed out loud.
‘Moonlight! What a ridiculous name for a cat!
Oh damn! The media! Such juicy news for them! Going ga-ga over a cat!
Exasperated, she had thrown the paper down. Her assistant Mary looked at her with concern.
‘Rose, what’s the matter?’ she questioned.
Rose thrust the newspaper into her hands. Mary read it and rolled her eyes upward.
Rose had half-expected to see Mr Becker but didn’t know the time would come so soon.
Mr Becker was in tears. ‘Justice, Miss Rose! Soon! Only you can! Poor Moon…’ his voice choked and trailed away.
Later, at Yorkshire-
They reached Yorkshire at about 3 in the afternoon. It had been a rather long drive. But that didn’t stop Mary from drooling over the opulence of the mansion.
‘Beautiful! Look, Rose! Such an expensive carpet! And the bar! Name your drink! And we get it!’
As she surveyed the bar with keen eyes, Rose paid no attention to her idiosyncrasies.
‘When did you last see Moonlight, Mr Becker?’ she asked.
‘Well, I was preparing to leave home for Hampstead, Miss Rose. I had some important business to take care of there, for a few days.
Alice kept looking around as he spoke to her proudly about his business, personal life, awards etc.
She only heard him say, ‘Ah! Now, I remember. She snuggled up to me before I handed her over to Alice, my head cook.
‘Then we speak to Alice. But before that, I need a drink, Mr Becker.’
Mr Becker looked a little disconcerted over the sudden change in her behaviour. But he quickly collected himself. His face revealed nothing. He took them around the mansion.
‘Ah! Come on, Miss Rose! There’s something special for you.’
‘Alice, please make us a drink.’ he called out.
‘Gin and vodka please for Miss Rose.’ he smiled.
Rose watched Alice as she poured out a drink. She looked around and saw a glass identical to the one she was holding lying near her feet. She could see a coating of white on the rim of the glass. She quickly picked it up and put it in her coat pocket.
Later, while Mr Becker was busy in his study, Rose and Mary took a stroll outside the mansion.
‘Oh, Mary! What a beautiful garden! And a private pool! I must say! Let’s have some fun…no, no, a lot of it! For another two hours, please!’
They swam for two long hours. A figure on the top floor of the mansion watched from behind the curtains. Rose tried not to glance up often. The person suddenly hurried inside! Rose motioned to Mary. Mary got the indication and walked towards the mansion.
Rose lazily watched the evening sun go down the mountains from the sun lounger. She adjusted the book over her eyes and dozed off.
Mary woke her up to a loud ringing of a bell, presumably a call for dinner.
They walked slowly toward the mansion, looking around all the time. They were greeted by Mr Becker at the door. He accompanied them to the table set for dinner.
‘An elegant spread indeed! Looks appetizing! Fantastic! I must say, Mr Becker, we seemed to have caused you a lot of trouble.’ spoke Rose.
‘Oh no, ladies! My pleasure. We hardly have beautiful people around here to extend our hospitality. Let me call Alice to serve you. Would you like to try the roast turkey? Miss Alice is a real expert.’
‘Sure, why not?’ Mary jumped up at the idea.
Rose’s glare – an indication to mellow her down a bit worked. Mary was quiet for the rest of the dinner.
Rose fidgeted in her chair. ‘The roast turkey must be checked!’ If only what I got is right! Then the killer can’t escape.’
Her face didn’t reveal her concern. But Mary could sense what she was thinking. After all, Mary had been her friend and a loyal assistant for over ten years now. Though she had to cope with Rose’s eccentricities sometimes, she still enjoyed their time together. And of course, Mary admitted-only to herself and a few friends- that she hadn’t seen any detective of Rose’s calibre since the time she got in touch with her.
The carved turkey arrived on a silver platter. Miss Alice lifted the lid on the plate nervously.
Mary watched Mr Becker’s face incredulously. She could see the red colour creeping onto his face. He bit his lip and tried to utter some words to convey his disgust.
‘Gosh! What, what the hell! Roast turkey indeed! What a shame!’
The turkey was cut haphazardly. It was just a lump of cooked meat!
‘Miss Alice! Can you please explain this mishap to our guests?’
‘Well. I…I.. was not able to find the carving knife. I had to use the kitchen knife, Mr Becker. Forgive me.’ stuttered Alice.
‘Oh! is it? spoke Rose, from behind the visibly shaken cook. ‘Do you think it could be this, Miss Alice?’, she asked quietly, holding out a carving knife with a wooden handle for everyone to see.
The transformation in Alice was immediate and stunning. She screeched angrily and almost pounced on Rose to get the knife. But Mary got better of her. She held her hands tightly and pinned her to a chair.
‘Now, Frankie, would you like to explain your nefarious deeds? Or should I do the honours?’
‘Miss Rose, can you please tell me what’s going on? What did Alice do? said, Mr Becker. And who’s Frankie?’
‘Miss Alice alias Frankie, your cook, Mr Becker. She is the infamous killer wanted all over Europe.’
A recollection of a news article that had appeared a year ago in the media dawned over Mr Becker. He looked shocked.
‘Why Alice?’ What happened?’ Did you?’ was all he could say.
‘Speak up! Let’s hear. In your words.’ said Rose with restrained anger.
‘No! I don’t…don’t know …. She is lying.’ Alice whispered.
For a few minutes, everyone present there could only hear the ticking of the antique clock that hung over the mantelpiece.
Mr Becker sat on the floor, hands covering his face, looking stunned. His misery was obvious to everyone there.
Rose finally spoke, ‘I feel it’s time that we reveal the truth.’
Alice looked at her with pleading eyes.
‘Miss Alice alias Frankie is part of an infamous gang wanted all over Europe for several crimes. She sought employment with Mr Becker to lay her hands on his immense wealth, especially his hereditary solitaire necklace worth thousands of pounds. She showed Mr Becker fake recommendation letters given by her ‘imaginary’ employers. Mr Becker was taken in by her culinary skills and never found a reason to suspect her of anything.
Alice studied every corner of the sprawling mansion from the time she found herself employed here. She even made a note of the routine activities of all the members residing here. But she forgot all about Moonlight, Mr Becker’s pet cat.
She tried to get near the safe in the bedroom near the bar, on several nights and break it open with the carving knife in the kitchen. But every time she tried that; the faithful cat pounced on her and foiled her carefully planned attempts. The sound awakened Mr Becker and other members and Alice had to make her escape.’
‘Oh! Yes! I remember! I saw.’ ‘You? Alice? Was that you?’
Mr Becker spoke after what seemed like ages. He remembered that one night, he had been late from work. As he entered his dark bedroom, he could spot a silhouette jumping out of his window and disappear. Moonlight sat comfortably on his bed.
Alice looked at him wide-eyed and fearful.
‘Yes, Mr Becker. Seems unreasonable, isn’t it?’
‘And, not only that, even your housekeeper Peter suspected Alice. All this proved to be rather tricky for Alice. Not only that, she was constantly pressurized by her gang to complete her job. She then decided to eliminate Moonlight. She got her chance when you said that you were to be away for a few days. She first managed to threaten Peter to resign his job and go away…’
‘Oh! My darling pet. And Peter resigned without notice. The scoundrel!’ interrupted Mr Becker, tears coursing down his cheeks.
‘Not Peter’s fault. You better believe sir… you better! I do feel sad.’ Rose shook her head and held his hand.
‘No, I am fine. Let’s hear Miss Rose.’
‘Yeah…’ continued Miss Rose. ‘The coating of white on the rim of the glass in the bar is the residue of Acetaminophen tablet. This when mixed with water or any liquid is particularly toxic to cats.’
‘Alice, can you tell us where you sourced it from?’ Mr Becker spoke through clenched teeth.
The downcast eyes of the culprit and heavy breathing were all that Rose could see and hear. It unsettled her a bit.
‘Never mind, Mr Becker.’ Rose signalled to Mary.
Mary brought Alice’s bag, out of which emerged the product of her vicious intentions- the diamond necklace, some cash and of course, the killer medicine. They also found a walkie-talkie which she had perhaps used to keep in touch with her gang members involved in this conspiracy.
‘At my indication, Mary went in while I was near the pool and checked your servant’s living quarters, Mr Becker. So, the credit goes to her for the findings.’ Rose clarified when Mr Becker and Alice looked at her quizzically.
It was Mary’s turn to smile with false humility. Rose tried hard not to laugh out loud.
‘Moonlight is now buried on the lawn near the swimming pool.’ Rose proclaimed sadly.
‘Moonlight! Dear Moonlight! In my garden! cried Mr Becker, for the second time that day, his arms outstretched.
Rose said nothing. She also produced the mud mixed with cat hairs procured from the freshly dug ground as proof.
‘Mary, do you remember what happened, when we were walking back to the mansion after our swim? Rose asked.
‘Well, I stumbled on a big brick kept in a hollow pit. I looked closely. I dug it a bit. A pungent odour which indicated death reached my nose. I dug a bit deeper. The mud was loose. This confirmed my suspicions. The result of my study is before all of you see.’
‘Enough, Miss Rose! I get it. But not anymore!’
Take her away! Out of my sight!’ he said, burying his face in his hands and pointing to Alice.
The next day, Alice was handed over to the police with all the materials found by Rose.
Nevertheless, the police had to take away Alice’s belongings, the diamond necklace and Moonlight to confirm the crime with Alice’s fingerprints. They promised to confirm to Rose when the rest of the gang was caught.
A distraught Mr Becker was sedated. He slept quietly in his room.
Mary came into Rose’s room after lunch, which was a simple and quiet affair. She stood in the doorway looking at her quietly.
Rose looked up from her packing. ‘Shoot Mary! What’s on your mind? Don’t stand like that!’
Mary examined Rose and said, ‘You haven’t told me about the carving knife.’
Rose smiled sarcastically, ‘I was waiting for you to ask, dear Mary. I must say that you have grown quite smart being with me.’
‘Well, I saw its condition when we went round the kitchen the first time Mr Becker took us around. I knew it would be of some use. So, I took it away and hid it in my secret pocket.
Rose lifted her gown to reveal the pocket.
‘My dear Rose, what would I do without you?’ said Mary.
It was Rose’s turn to look stunned. Both of them laughed heartily.
‘Rose, can we stay in this beautiful place for some more time?’ whined Mary.
But she soon found herself out of the room as an answer and the door locked behind Rose.
They left Yorkshire soon after. A visibly relieved Mr Becker and his entire family wished them the best.
This is purely a fictional account somewhat adapted from the famous ‘Mystery of Aquilla Diamond’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of whom I am a fan.
The storyline and characters however have been changed to suit the prompt. Everything penned down here is my original work.
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