Welcome to another short story week! As many of you may have seen, there was a Flash Fiction Challenge this past Friday (as there is on every Friday). This challenge was a fun one to do for sure, and I received quite a few comments saying that people would like to see more of the story. So I wrote more! This weeks short story is an extended and re-imagined version of the Flash Fiction piece I did titled: Double Croste. There are some similarities with the Flash Fiction, but different events and a different ending.
Funny enough it has spawned a second short story with the same Detective in another mystery called Croste Your Heart. I do have to warn you, I am completely new to the mystery/ detective genre. I actually looked up Rules for writing Detective Fiction and found: “20 Rules for Writing Detective Fiction,” written by S. S. Van Dine (pseud. for Willard Huntington Wright) and published in 1928. I ran with those rules specifically as I imagine my Detective to be living in the late 1930‘s, albeit an alternate 1930‘s so I could play with a few things.
As usual for a short story week, I have broken the story into two parts due to the length of the short. Today I give you the first half to enjoy and on Thursday I’ll give you folks the second half. Also as usual, on Thursday when the second half posts I will load the full length short story onto the Short Fiction page here on my blog. Feel free to take a read through the other short stories collected there as well.
As always, both good and bad comments are welcome. I enjoy the praise (as any writer does) as well as the criticism (which will lead to me quietly swearing and throwing a temper tantrum), I think both help to produce better work. Well, I hope you enjoy todays jaunt into the life of an Occult Detective with a Dual Personality. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!
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It was a rainy Thursday, not unlike any other rainy day. I looked up as the door opened. The simple wooden frame with frosted glass leaving a cool silhouette of hips and curls in the doorway. She was looking at the print on the glass, dark paint that read: A. Croste Occult Detectives.
Actually it’s only a light drizzle, Alan.
Will you stop? It’s my turn for the internal monologue, you had it yesterday. Where was I… It was raining on that Thursday. That was the day She walked in. I could tell the dame was upset, her mascara was running like she’d been crying. Sure, it could be the weather, but I didn’t think so.
“Are you Alan Croste? I was told you might be able to help me,” she said with a flutter of her lashes.
She must have known our weak spot, our Achilles’ Heel.
Take a powder, Arlo, this is my monologue so stop interrupting me. She knew I had a soft spot for a dame in distress.
We, Alan. We.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m Alan Croste.”
I made sure to look in the mirror and give myself the look that said “shut it” before Arlo could toss his two cents into the pot.
“What can I do for you Miss…” I asked as I offered her a chair.
“Wollberton. Miss Wollberton,” she replied.
“What can we- I, help you with Miss Wollberton?”
I poured myself some coffee and held out an empty cup to Miss Wollberton. She refused with a slight shake of her head.
“You can call me Susan,” she said. “It sounds silly, but I was told that you were the place to go for this sort of thing. It’s my brother you see. He’s gone missing and…” She broke off into a sob.
I handed her my handkerchief, “Please Miss Wollberton, continue.”
“Well, we live in the old Ashton House. My family just acquired it last summer and things have been strange since. My brother Samuel claimed that there was someone following him around the house at night. Our parents are in England until after the new year so it’s just the two of us.” She was tearing up again, poor girl. “And now my brother is missing! Please, Mr. Croste, you have to help me.”
“Any serving staff at all, Miss Wollberton?” I asked getting my notebook and a fountain pen ready.
“Well, yes actually. We have two maids, Mary Ingles and Winifred Iverson. A butler, Charles Winston. And Filbert Wells, the grounds-keeper,” she said.
This case was already beginning to feel mundane. Not my normal realm of expertise.
Our normal realm, Alan. I swear, it feels like sometimes you forget I’m even here. Always I this, and me that. We’re a team Alan, you couldn’t handle this job alone, you don’t have the haircut for it. I’m of a mind to say you don’t even give proper credit to the Book, think about how many times it’s helped out in the past.
“Do any of your staff have issues with your brother Samuel, any ill will? Could any of them stand to gain something from his disappearance?”
“Surely not! You can’t think they would have anything to do with this? With the exception of Mr. Wells our staff have been with our family since before my brother and I were born. And Mr. Wells has no access to the manor house, there’s a small apartment at the edge of the gardens where he lives. To think they could have done anything, well, the thought is just absurd, Mr. Croste!”
“Did you find any broken windows, doors forced open, anything out of the ordinary?”
Miss Wollberton turned her eyes away, her cheeks flushing.
“It’s most unusual, and I feel embarrassed to admit it. But there was a wall in his room on the second floor covered in some kind of fluid. It looked thick, like the white of an egg,” she said, the hesitation in her voice would have been hard to fake.
I felt sure that it must be some form of ethereal discharge or ectoplasmic secretion perhaps from a wraith or poltergeist, the usual suspects for such a colloidal saturation.
Alan, your monologue is terrible, just terrible. I’m afraid I’ll have to take over.
“Not now Arlo, I can handle the monologue.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Croste? I’m Susan, and what monologue are you talking about? I thought we were having a conversation?”
Internal Alan, internal is the key word. You really should let me handle the detective work for just this reason. Ahem. The dame was confused, but we assured her that everything would be fine. As it happens we specialize in the occult.
We sent Miss Wollberton on her way and asked that she leave us the keys to the home and go stay with a friend for a few hours. She gave us the telephone number and thanked us as she left. That would give us plenty of time to sort this mess out.
We slid open the bottom drawer of our desk and looked down on the black rune covered box. With a quick recitation to protect ourselves from its influence we opened the lid and removed the small tome. If the rumors were to be believed, the book was bound in human skin. We don’t put much stock in rumors though.
I do Arlo, that’s why I never touch that thing.
The Book came from Russia originally, an ancient pocket sized volume that is believed to be the journal of Rasputin himself. Might be true, might not, either way it knows a lot about the occult and that’s help we need in our line of work.
As we pulled into the Ashton house we could feel the buzz in the air. There was definitely something here. Alan turned off the car, I always let him drive because I was never much good behind the wheel.
That’s true Arlo, you’ve crashed more of our cars than I can count.
We looked into the mirror, “We don’t have time for this conversation Alan. There’s a man’s life at stake.”
“Possibly. We don’t know what we’re dealing with yet,” Alan said to our reflection- err to me.
“You don’t have to monologue our conversation’s, Arlo.”
For that matter Alan, we don’t have to have them out-loud either.
We climbed out of the car and made our way up the steps and into the large mansion. We took out Rasputin’s journal and asked it what it felt about the home.
The blank pages began to fill with hand-written notes. It read: Whatever is here, Comrade, it doesn’t like any of us. But I can tell you it’s hiding in the attic. Вы должны будете святой водой, что звезда Thrumboe, и черные свечи.
It wrote out something in Russian, we can’t read Russian so we cracked the books’ spine. The pages cleared and again filled with writing. It read: Ouch! I said, you’re going to need the Holy Water and a Star of Thrumboe, and the Black Candle.
We closed the book and went back to the car. I had to retrieve the items myself, Alan never liked touching the Black Candle. It made him squeamish. I was relieved that he grabbed the revolver though, I would have forgotten it as I am a terrible shot.
Well Arlo, one of us needs to remember that that disgusting candle will cause the Specter to materialize so we can kill it. And please don’t pass out on me again. It’s not easy carrying your dead weight around.
Miss Wollberton had said her brother was last seen in his room, though he liked to walk around the home at night. The first order of business, we had to check the doors and windows for signs of tampering. We also needed to talk with the staff, find out what they may know or have seen, and let them know we’ll be in the house for a few hours too, possibly overnight. The knowledge of the supposed slime on the wall could be looked at later, it wasn’t going anywhere but slowly down to the floor.
We made our way into the mansion again and headed to the back rooms, behind the kitchen, to find the staff housing. Three smaller rooms where the two maids and the butler resided. We gave a quick pat of our coat pocket and as usual felt the bulk of the brown Bakelite Rolls camera and a couple extra tubes of safety film.
When the butler stepped out, Alan nearly jumped out of our skin.
No I didn’t, there was a draft, I just had a quick shiver.
The butler looked just as shocked as we were. We raised our hands, a gesture of peace you could say. Alan did the talking, he handled people better, knew how to be polite.
“I’m Alan Croste, Private Detective. Susan Wollberton hired us- hired me, to investigate Samuel’s disappearance,” we said reaching into out jacket for the note pad. Thumbing through a few pages, “You must be Mr. Charles Winston, the butler correct?”
“Yes, Sir, I am he.”
“Have you worked for the Wollberton’s long? Any problems with their boy Samuel, was he demanding or angry? Did he ever become cross with you Mr. Winston?”
“Good heavens, may I have a chance to answer the first question before you weigh me down with the others?”
We said nothing, only watched him with our pen ready to take notes. With a sigh and no attempt to hide the roll of his eyes he continued.
“I’ve worked for Mr. and Mrs. Wollberton since before Susan and Samuel were born, as have Ms. Ingles and Ms. Iverson. Samuel has caused no more trouble than any young man of the times, and to my knowledge is a wonderful person. He has never been demanding, or cross as you put it.”
“I see. That seems to be in your favor I would say,” we said closing the notebook. “Would you mind finding me a few fingers of scotch? Thanks. I assume Ms. Ingles and Iverson are in their quarters? I’ll just have myself a look while you find that scotch.”
“Very well, Sir.”
Careful Alan, he sounds a might perturbed with you.
Cool your heels, Arlo, I know how to handle the people you just worry about the supposed specter.
We walked down the short hallway and rapped gently on the first door. After the sounds of some shuffling it opened. Curled white hair pulled into a tight bun that sadly left the wrinkled sour face fully exposed. She looked passed us down the hall before meeting our eye.
“Who are you? Guest rooms are upstairs.”
“Private Detective Alan Croste, ma’am. I have a few questions for you about the young Mr. Samuel Wollberton on behalf of his sister. And you are?”
“Winifred Iverson, and he’s not missing. He just doesn’t want to be found. Every few weeks or so he runs off with some cheap hussy, boozing and gambling. It happens more often when the Mister and Misses go on holiday.”
“I see, that’s very interesting. Miss Susan Wollberton claims he has been abducted and that an egg-white-like residue is smeared on his walls. Any thoughts on that?”
“I’ve never seen his room, I’m just the cook. And none of my eggs are missing. You’ll have to talk to Mary, she cleans the house. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
We nodded and Winifred shut the door, hard. Further down the small hallway we stopped in front of the far door, the woody smell of a perfume or a scented candle drifted through the cracks in the wood. The third door behind them was partially open and clearly a man’s room, this door had to be Mary Iverson’s room. A quick knock gave no response. We knocked again and called out her name. No response.
We chanced turning the handle to open the door but it was locked.
Interesting don’t you think, Alan? Butler says Samuel is a great guy, the Cook says he’s a tramp and fond of drink. And now it seems the maid isn’t home?
Did you even conceive she might be cleaning the evidence we need to see from the wall in Samuel’s room, Arlo?
I concede the point, Alan. Ah look, here comes our scotch.
“Your drink, Sir.”
“Thank you kindly, Mr. Winston.”
We took a heavy whiff from the rim of the glass, it was wonderful. Without much thought we slugged it back, draining the amber liquid where one would normally sip, we were pressed for time you understand. It was heavy, smokey, like licking the back of a fireplace. Delicious.
So do I get a shot at narrating yet? You know I’ve been listening to the radio shows, I’m getting better. Just give me a fair shake Arlo.
Alright, take a spin Alan. Just know that when you get a little shaky with the monologue I’m taking over again.
I nodded, it made sense after all. Arlo always better with putting the right words together. I may have had a good hand at talking with people, but that guy could spin a yarn with the best of them. We took to the stairs, the kid’s room was on the second floor. I covered the steps two at a time, the maid may have been cleaning the very evidence I needed to look at.
It’s we Alan. How many times do I have to say it? One man, two detectives. That means I, me, and my becomes we, us, and our. Remember your pronouns, they’re pretty swinging these days.
Fine. We walked up to the second floor. I could hear scraping coming from one of the rooms down the hall. Err- we could… My brain doesn’t work that way Arlo. Just let me do it my way alright? So I made my way to the door and pushed it open, it creaked slightly alarming the maid inside.
“Goodness!” She was started. “Who are you? What are you doing in here?”
“Alan Croste, I’m investigating Samuel’s disappearance. And you happen to be cleaning up possible evidence. I’m going to have to ask you to step away from that wall Mary Ingles.”
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Tune in Thursday for the exciting conclusion of Double Croste!