Oh, and I finished early, so my Friday flash goes up on Thursday. So sue me.
Half a Clue(This is what Jemima Pett wrote last week)
The last thing Scarlett expected to find that morning was a dead body.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the excitement of the previous evening she had not slept well. The stuffy old dinner party had turned out to be so much more. As usual, she had been seated next to the vicar, and his groping hands had strayed to her thigh on several occasions. Her mother had asserted some years earlier that little girls did not tell tales, especially about such a respectable person. On maintaining the truth of her allegations, she had been sent to her bed without supper for five consecutive days. She had learned to endure and avoid as a result.
The only person she had confided in was Alba White, the cook. To her immense relief, Alba just nodded. “Say nothing more,” she had advised, and gave her a signal to give to the butler. On the next occasion the vicar’s attentions became too intimate, Scarlett acted as planned, and the reverend was mysteriously taken ill after the sweet course. Last night it happened again, and Scarlett hoped the man of a different god than hers could see it was divine retribution.
She had thrown off that mischief after dinner. Russell Peacock, home from the war, and his mother had been the centre of attention. Russell only had five days leave, but he looked so handsome – and so grown up since their last meeting in the summer. They had known each other since childhood, of course, but there was something so different about him now, it made her heart fizz. Even their entrance had been exciting. Reeves had announced them, of course, but as Russell had shaken her father’s hand his eyes had turned to her, that sudden spark shooting through her, confirming his thoughts were on her as much as hers were of him.
He had done his duty to the rest of the company, of course, and he and Scarlett had only minutes together before dinner was announced, minutes that Scarlett had dissected and savoured in the early hours when she was trying to sleep. Of course, she also examined the scene that, having simmered throughout dinner, finally erupted afterwards. How dare the stuffy old Colonel disagree with Russell about his analysis of the Hun? What right had he to call Russell a ‘young pup’? Scarlett thought Russell had been most heroic in the way he controlled his rising embarrassment tinged with ire. The Colonel was drunk even before he arrived, or so she had heard the professor whisper as he gently led the old soldier onto the terrace after the meal.
Scarlett’s only regret about the evening was its premature ending; Russell and his mother had to return early to nurse his sick father.
So much for Scarlett to think about. No wonder she had risen early to see the dawn. It had just been the last thing she expected to find: Colonel Mustard, in the library, a revolver by his side.
[And here I take up the tale]
Scarlett drew in a breath to scream, then thought better of it. A scream would draw the whole household, blustering or hysterical as their personalities dictated. She closed her mouth and rang for Reeves.
She met the butler at the door. “It’s the Colonel.”
“Has he been taken ill, Miss Scarlett?”
“He’s been taken dead.” Surprised at her own calm bluntness, Scarlett stepped aside to reveal the corpse on the library rug. Reeves sniffed his disapproval, of bodies messing up his rugs and of young ladies finding them.
“You go to the kitchen, and ask Cook for tea. I will telephone the police.”
An hour later, Inspector Clueso had them all lined up in the lounge. A pair of policemen, or surgeons, or something, worked over the thing in the library.
Scarlett had blurted out the news as soon as they were gathered, of course. Colonel Mustard was dead in the library, with a revolver at his side. Speculation ran wild. Whose revolver? Had he shot himself? Had someone else shot him, and left the gun to make it look like suicide? Who could have hated the old army man that much? People got annoyed with the Colonel, with his rambling stories and his dogmatic pronouncements, but they didn’t generally care that much what he said.
Scarlett hadn’t mentioned what her quick look at the body had shown her: that the gun had not killed the Colonel. And she very much doubted he had killed himself. Not that way.
The Inspector looked over the household. Mrs. White managed the staff at one end of the room, while Reeves kept the family and guests comfortable in the over-stuffed chairs around the fire. “Is anyone missing who was here last night?”
Scarlett glanced at her mother. “There’s the Vicar,” she ventured. “Reverend Green.”
“But he went home after the pheasant, poor man,” her mother protested. “He said he felt rather ill, and I’m sure he looked it.”
Scarlett avoided looking at Reeves. She was sure the Vicar had felt very ill indeed.
The professor cleared his throat. “There was Mrs. Peacock and her son. They departed rather early, as the senior Mr. Peacock is ill. Young Mr. Peacock is home on leave from France.”
Scarlett glared at him. How dare Professor Plum hint that Russell could have had anything to do with it? She thought of the Colonel’s blustering dismissal of all Russell’s opinions about the war. But Russell had kept his temper so beautifully! And anyway, he and his mother had been long gone before this had happened. Well, the Inspector would have to figure it out. At least so far he’d been smart enough not to mention how the man had really died.
Scarlett glanced out the tall windows that opened onto the garden, and her heart began to pound. Russell Peacock was crossing the wide lawn, his cap pushed back and lips pursed as he whistled a tune she couldn’t hear, but imagined was “A Long Way to Tipperary.”