“You sure you’re sure about this one, boss? She just a sweet old lady.”
His wrinkled face pinched into a scowl as he glared at the muggy March sky. “Dreadful weather today.” He grumbled, fastening his coat. Cold and rainy, my mother would call this ‘soup weather’. Clutching the handle of his cane, he teetered down the pathway of the Madam’s estate.
Keeping with his turtle slow pace, I held an umbrella over both of our heads. “Are you even listening?”
“Of course.” Mister Barnaby assured me. I had worked with him long enough to know he was certainly not listening.
It was an awfully big house, far too ritzy for my taste. May as well live at the Plaza. Upon entering the sprawling mansion, a church mouse dressed as a maid met us at the door. Glancing behind her, she presented us with a simple key, the last piece of the puzzle. As we were led into the living room, I stuffed the skeleton key into my vest pocket.
“Detective Barnaby, come in. Come in!” A gracious greeting offered by the lady of the house. Mrs. Matilda Pierce, a well kept woman, with pristine makeup and not a hair out of place. Trust me, this broad didn’t look a day over 50. Perched by the fireplace, she sat in her antique rocking chair, wearing a dressing gown embroidered with orchids.
“Fiona, dear,” Mrs. Pierce beckoned for her timid maid. “Bring some more tea for the detective and his assistant.” The maid scurried off. After sipping her cup of tea, her lips curled “Did you find him?”
Three months Franklin Pierce had been missing. His shiny automobile still parked in the driveway. Most of his personal possessions were still in the home. And none of the staff members saw him leave either. An odd case, wouldn’t you say?
Tipping his tweed cap like a proper English gentleman, Mister Barnaby eased into the chair opposite her. “Unfortunately, your husband is still missing. We are still investigating. Your granddaughter is quite concerned, last we spoke to her.”
Her hand waved dismissingly. “Oh she worries too much. Franklin probably went on another fishing trip.”
“One of your maids said that you were arguing with you husband before his disappearance.”
“Couples have disagreements. Couples take breaks,” She patted my cheek like a long lost grandmother. “You’re young, sweetie. You will learn soon enough.”
“I see.” Mister Barnaby gave me a measured nod, a signal that meant ‘fetch, dog, fetch’. Oh, the joys of being a detective’s right hand man. I excused myself to go to the restroom, leaving my employer and the madam alone by the fire.
Last night, the detective lectured me on old homes with their various hiding places. How he suspected Mr. Pierce was still on the property, one way or another. How the maid promised to give us the skeleton key when we arrived tomorrow.
“Check behind every door, every closet.” Mister Barnaby instructed. “Mr. Pierce is still in that house.”
I searched anything that had a hinge. Cupboards with hidden compartments. Closets within closets. What kind of maniac built this house? Then, I checked a closet in one of the guestrooms. Behind fur coats and cardboard boxes of leftover Christmas decorations was a narrow wooden door. A secret passage, if you will. The door led to stairs, and the stairs led to a basement.
I found Franklin Pierce. Strangled to death and left to rot in a cement room under his home. A kiss of red lipstick stamped on his cheek. Early stages of decomposing. Poor fella had seen better days. When I returned to the detective’s side, Mrs. Pierce was reapplying her red lipstick in the mirror. And she began to laugh. “Oscar, darling, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“More like a skeleton in a closet, boss.” I muttered to Mister Barnaby, lighting a ciggy in my mouth. The mad madam continued to laugh.
– Lady Jabberwocky