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The Seven Roses Murder

by Gordon DeLand 8 months ago in fiction
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A Robert Wentworth Esq. Mystery

Seven Roses Murder

“When I saw the bouquet of 7 roses, I knew exactly who had murdered Mrs. O’Connell” He spoke in his flat, matter-of-fact tone, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Keep yourself busy talking, I thought. Mrs. O’Connell was no one’s friend and would not be missed. Except for me, her housekeeper/cook/gardener and what-have-you. I would miss her in small ways, the loss of employment notwithstanding. For all her selfishness and her criticism of all persons and objects in sight, she had understood my needs and had seen to it they were met. Now she was gone and this “detective” as he calls himself has assembled us in the morning room as if we were playing a game of Clue.

Her morning room, as she called it, was no more than a sitting room that opened off the dining room. It was situated at the back of the house where the windows could face east. The walls were covered in a soft golden material that looked like silk (it wasn’t) and the floor-to-ceiling drapes were a deeper shade of gold (also not silk).But in the morning light, the room glowed. The carved white mantle and woodwork added to the brightness, and the gas logs in the fireplace radiated warmth to match.

Hers was the only comfortable seat in the room, of course. The rest of the seating consisted of several wing chairs with forward-sloping seats and hard backs and two tailored couches covered in gold brocade whose cushions were so soft as to make it impossible to gracefully exit them. A long visit and you back would ache. There were several side chairs, pretty but equally uncomfortable.

The relatives were perched or slumped around the room. Her whiny son Vincent, her sister Beatrice (drunk as usual and still asking for ‘a glass of sherry, at least!’) and assorted cousins and in-laws. For them, it was about placing the blame and condemning the culprit. And if her lawyer, Robert Wentworth, Esq. had been present and willing, they would have demanded he read the will and begin negotiations about who really should get what.

The detective was droning on, looking at each one of us, myself included, and telling his little tale about each, what motive we had and how we could have ‘done it’. Just like the cinema, only boring. Very boring.

I began thinking about the day she died. It was only two weeks ago. Both her son, Vincent, and her lush sister Beatrice, had each come to visit that morning. Both had called ahead, of course. Mrs. O’Connell didn’t entertain impromptu guests. If you can’t plan your day properly so as to give someone else an opportunity to plan theirs, she always said, then you need to be given the time and opportunity to do your planning. I refuse to be bothered.

Vincent Longbottom was Mrs. O’Connell’s son. He kept his father’s name when his parents divorced. Mrs. O’Connell kept the misses but took back her own family name. It complicated some things, but that was her way. Vincent had come with me to the kitchen to help carry. If she was having guests, there would be some kind of light refreshment. Breaking bread and tea, she always said, was the glue that held civilization together. Be that as it may, I allowed the son to pour the kettle into the tea pot. I doubted his hands were clean enough to touch the biscuits. He had been thoughtful enough to carry the tea tray while I brought the food, although it was the first time I could recall him being so helpful. I left the room, of course, after the tea was poured. And yes, they argued. Or, more properly, he whined in a loud voice and she answered quietly until she finally asked him in a rather loud tone to refill her cup, bring it to her and then sit down. I heard that much because I was on my way to the answer the doorbell.

It was her sister, weaving in the wind, smelling of some kind of cheap alcohol, smiling as if her life depended on it.

“Is my sister home?”

“Yes, Ma’am. You have an appointment.” I didn’t remind her that she wouldn’t be here without one. As I stepped aside to let her in she stumbled a little on the threshold, excused herself and looked around as I took her coat.

“This place is so lovely. Do you have any sherry?”

I pointed out that it was well before noon and Mrs. O’Connell wasn’t in the habit of serving sherry at this hour. Beatrice looked disappointed and shifted her purse from one hand to the other.

“If you’ll wait here,” I said pointing to a seat, “I’ll announce you.” There was an alcove with seating just off the main hall, designed for such waits. She frowned, then as if remembering something, she turned the smile back on, nodded in agreement and moved that direction as I walked away.

I was about to knock on the Morning Room door when Vincent yanked the door open and stormed out. I counted to ten before I went in. Mrs. O’Connell was seated, sipping her tea. I announced her sister, picked up Vincent’s still full cup and asked if she wanted more tea made.

Bring the sherry, she answered. I raised an eyebrow, but she looked away, her way of saying to me that there was no more to be said. I took the cup to the kitchen, collected Beatrice at the alcove and walked her back to the Morning Room. As I turned to go, Mrs. O’Connell offered Beatrice a biscuit. “Do you have any sherry?” I heard her ask. I hustled to the pantry for the sherry and by the time I got back the two of them were already waving their hands and almost shouting. There was no discoverable subject of the argument. Both women became silent as I set the sherry down. Beatrice immediately poured her own glass, as was her habit. I asked if they were done with the tea and biscuits. Mrs. O’Connell requested I leave the tea.

I took the plate of biscuits to the kitchen. Knowing they would be unacceptable tomorrow morning, and that she would not eat them after the noon hour, I put them in the rubbish and set it out for the man who takes it. He showed up as I was walking away. We exchanged household gossip for a few and I went back to work. I went to check on the Morning Room and to my surprise, Lawyer Wentworth was just leaving.

I was taken aback and asked him how long he’d been here. He smiled, said he’d let himself in through the garden gate soon after Vincent had come in. I said I hadn’t noticed him in the room when I announced Beatrice. He said he’d taken a handful of biscuits and done a turn or two around the garden until she left. I told him that he would not be welcome if he could not make an appointment and be announced at his arrival. I knew Mrs. O’Connell well enough to say that. He replied that I was mistaken and it was I who would not be long welcome in the house if I retained that attitude. Mrs. O’Connell and he, he informed me, had finalized an arrangement. She would be informing me of it that very afternoon.

I was left speechless. I had not been informed of any such arrangement by Mrs. O’Connell and it seemed very suspicious to me that he would be the one to inform me about even this much. In any case, it was an ill-fated arrangement, as you can see. Both of them are gone now, her to her grave and him to no one knows where and half her money missing according to the family.

The detective was talking about me now. How I, the dutiful servant had for years put with her abuse and criticism—more than enough motive to “knock the old biddy off” as he put it. I bristled at that. She was no old biddy! She was a lady of the first order. He spoke of my low wages and my access to her health if not her wealth.

Then he paused, took a draw on his pipe (filthy habit! And in the house, too!) The whole room nodded and leaned forward to hear his verdict. His tone changed, and he spoke softly to me.

“My dear, you are now without mistress, without home, without income or position. What will you do?”

I glanced around, and realized I was supposed to answer out loud. I said I had enough savings for two months and a sister in Brighton with whom I could board until I found a new position. I added it was summer and Brighton was always busy in the summer. It should be fairly easy.

He nodded his approval and asked what I knew about the seven roses. I told him they were delivered, no card. The bouquet was still in the room at his request, looking very shabby now after two weeks. He asked if I knew of a place named ‘seven roses’ anywhere. I told him I had no idea what he meant. His tone got sharp then and asked me did I not know of a hotel my mistress had made reservations at for this very week. I told him that those kinds of arrangements were not mine to make, that Mrs. O’Connell had an agent that did those sorts of things. I told him she always wanted those things done over the phone and I’m no good on the phone. She always reminded me about how bad I was at using the telephone.

There was a general sigh of disappointment around the room.

He had one more question. What, he asked was my knowledge of the relationship between Mrs. O’Connell and her lawyer, Robert Wentworth, Esq. I told him I was not privy to Mrs. O’Connell’s social calendar and I chose not to pay attention to the two of them when they discussed her business. I took in the tea and left, shutting the door.

“But weren’t you interested in what went on behind those closed doors,” he asked.

I told him no, but I was getting red in the face.

“Why the rosy cheeks? he asked.

I told him what went on in there was not my business.

“And what did go on in there?”

He asked like a cat pouncing on a rat. I took a step back then, squared my shoulders, pointed my chin and repeated, “What went on in Mrs. O’Connell’s morning room between her and her lawyer is not my business! Not then and certainly not now! If she needed my help she would ring and I would be in the kitchen and hear it and answer.” I added, “Those were my orders and that’s what I did!”

At that, the detective backed down a little, but I could see he wasn’t satisfied.

“Did Mrs. O’Connell ever go out alone?”

“If you mean, without me, of course she did! I answered. “I’m not in her social circle. She’d hire a cab,” I said, anticipating the next question. “And I didn’t call the cab, I was no good on the phone, she would often remind me. She called one herself.”

“From her morning room?” he shot back.

“No, from her telephone!”

The whole room burst into laughter. I knew that was cheeky but he deserved it. He moved on to the next person.

By the time he finished no one in the room could be considered innocent by an unbiased courtroom. Everyone had a motive to do Mrs. O’Connell harm, for revenge or for inheritance. The only person of interest that was not in the room was her lawyer, who had disappeared the day after her death.

Vincent piped up with a question.

“What about the seven roses?”

“There they are, the only clue,” the detective answered.

“No, the hotel in Egypt, or wherever.”

“Amman, Jordan, yes. We have a watch set there, but at this time no one has attempted to check in or receive a refund on the booking. We’ve traced the phone call, but it leads here,” the detective glanced at me again. “According to the hotel manager, it was a man who placed the call.”

The room was silent for an uncomfortable moment.

“What about the money?” Always the bold one, Beatrice asked in a loud voice.

“At this time, there is fifty thousand pounds in Mrs. O’Connell’s accounts. That is roughly half of what the balance was a week before her death.”

A gasp, followed by whispers, travelled around the room.

“Where’s the rest?”

“That is an unanswered question, at this time. She went to the bank in person and received the funds herself. No one was in her company, and she obviously made it home alive and well.”

“So, who did it? You didn’t tell us who did it! Who murdered my mother?” Vincent asked. There was more petulant disappointment in his voice than anything else. I felt my anger rise in my throat but I kept my mouth shut.

“As I said at the beginning, when I saw the bouquet of 7 roses, I knew exactly who had murdered Mrs. O’Connell.” He paused for effect. “The answer is—the man who made the hotel reservation!” He smiled triumphantly and raised his hands in a motion that mimicked the word “Behold!”

There was a stunned silence, then confused babbling filled the room that rose to a fever pitch with Vincent finally shouting for everyone to shut up.

“That is no answer! What in the bloody blue blazes have we sat here for an hour on these ungodly uncomfortable seats, listening to you ramble on—and all you can tell us is that?! You’re fired! I hired you to find my mother’s murderer and you have done little or nothing to find him. Or her, if it be a murderess,” he said, pointedly looking at me. “I demanded the police stay out of this to keep it out of the papers, to keep it from her social circle, from her investments, her charities, and this? This is all you come up with?! Get out! Get out now! RIGHT now!” He was livid as only a weak, publicly shamed young man can be. “And take her with you!” he said pointing at me. “I can’t believe you know nothing more than you say. You know something, I’m sure of it! I’ll have the police thoroughly investigate you, starting this very afternoon!”

“Very well,” the detective said quietly. It seemed he had somehow shrunk. I walked to the door, opened it and after the two of us went through it, I turned and spoke to Vincent.

“Thank you, sir, for allowing me to serve your mother. She was a good woman, in my opinion.” And I gently closed the door.

I packed my bag quickly. I had expected something like this. I would be leaving anyway, but I didn’t quite expect this. I met the detective at the front door. From the stairs I had heard shouting and arguing coming from the Morning Room. I shook my head.

“I took the liberty of calling a cab for us,” he said.

“Thank you.” I took one last look around. It was indeed a beautiful house. I wondered what would become of it. Vincent hated it. Beatrice couldn’t afford it. The others had no part of the inheritance large enough to buy it. I sighed and closed the door.

Down the steps, the detective was holding the cab door for me. I smiled. He smiled back. We got in and he gave the address to the driver, Pier 35.

He leaned over and kissed me, full and deep. Our arms found their way around each other and for a moment every care melted away. Then he pulled away and with exaggerated care, began to peel pieces of rubber off his face. In a matter of seconds, Robert Wentworth, Esq. sat next to me, his face red from the mask, beaming.

“We did it. We pulled it off!”

“I still feel bad,” I said.

“There is no reason for that. She knew she was dying. She went to the bank herself. She swore her doctor to secrecy and paid him the hush money in cash. She knew how her family would treat us both—the only two people in the world who actually cared about her. And remember, the belladonna in her evening drink was her idea. She told you just do it, not tell her when or how, just do it. She died in her sleep, quietly, painlessly. What more could anyone ask?”

“I still feel bad,” I said.

“Maybe a change of scenery will help. I can recommend a beautiful hotel in an exotic country.” His smile, his warmth, his strong arms—I relaxed and played along.

“Oh? What have you got in mind?”

“Imagine the mysterious Middle East. Jordan, for instance. A luxurious hotel in the most important city in the country? Would that make you feel better?”

“Sounds… dangerous! What if someone finds us there?”

“Well then, how about Beirut. Do you like silk? How is your French?”

“Did you have this in mind all along?!”

“Of course. Lawyers are always planning alternate strategies! Beirut it is! And it just so happens that there is a steamship leaving for Beirut from…”

“…Pier 35?” I almost squealed.

“As a matter of fact, yes. And our tickets are waiting for us there.”

fiction

About the author

Gordon DeLand

Gordon DeLand was raised in a small country village in Central New York State. He spent six years in the US Navy traveling the world. Presently he lives in the Dallas Metroplex with two roommates, no cats and one lemon tree.

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