Welcome back everyone! Today we get to find out what exactly is going on with everyone’s favorite Dual-Personality Occult Detectives. The second half has all the answers to the mystery you’ve been waiting for. As always, now that the end is posted I will also post the complete short story on the Short Fiction page for those who have the want or time to read Double Croste uninterrupted.
I hope you enjoy the story as much as I have. Please feel free to comment, I’m interested to hear what you think about my attempt at Detective Fiction. All comments are welcome. Have a great day and thanks for stopping by!
And now for the exciting conclusion of Double Croste.
* * * * *
Mary Ingles stood and backed away from the wall, which did look to have been splashed with something like raw egg-whites. She dropped a soiled cleaning rag as she moved.
“I have some questions to ask you ma’am. You happen to see anyone sneaking around the place before Samuel went missing?”
“No, there was no one. He was completely alone. All night- I mean day, all day.”
“Really? You see, that comes across like sour milk to someone in my shoes. I hear tell he’s a good kid, but he likes to drink and patronize the late night women. And now he seems to be a bit reclusive by your words. Can you tell me what the grounds-keeper might say to me?”
“I don’t… I’m not sure what… What are you saying Mr. Croste?”
At this point I wasn’t sure what I was implying. “I’m just stating facts that don’t seem to add up Ms. Ingles. Someone is lying to me here, my guts are never wrong. I’m going to need the room if you don’t mind.”
I motioned for her to leave, she did. Now I had my chance to look around the place.
Okay, you’re done Alan. That’s just terrible. When I think back on this case I don’t want to remember it that way…
We waited for her footsteps to quiet as she left before turning back to the wall. As we moved closer it was obvious from the smell that the slime was clearly ectoplasmic in nature. We smeared some onto a small glass plate from within our coat and pressed it together with a similar plate. We fixed the two with a third lens bearing an arcane symbol of Babylonian origins, when held to the light it was very…revealing. But only if one knew how to look.
The sunlight through the window changed the slime in the lens to a bright blue.
Blue, Alan. That’s never good. Not only is it a ghost, but someone’s controlling it.
Who do you think it is Arlo? The grounds-keeper! He’s the only person we haven’t talked to yet and he worked for the previous owners. He has to know something. We need to talk to him.
Well I’m sure he knows something Alan. Hey, do you smell that? Something sweet and kind of woody?
Mary Ingles just left, it’s her perfume Arlo. It’s lingering is all. We’ve got to get out to the apartment in the back.
We quickly walked back to the stairway and down to the first floor. We again found ourselves in the kitchen as we moved to the rear entrance that would let us out into the gardens. It was there we could hear voices from the staff, whispering to each other about us- well about Alan that is, they haven’t met me yet.
Arlo, take the book out and leave it here. It can relay everything to us later while we talk to Filbert Wells.
Good thinking Alan, give them the old quick shuffle. We placed Rasputin’s Journal up on a shelf out of site and quietly slipped out the back door. From here we could see down the lanes of lilies and tulips and well trimmed hedges, we could see the small apartment. It looked like nothing more than a modified garden shack with a small round metal chimney. Mr. Wells appeared to be home unless he merely left a fire going.
We moved through the garden, down the brick path and soon found his doorstep. A quick knuckle to the door and it flung open as if we were expected. As if by some premonition of our coming the kettle began to whistle and the old man at the door smiled.
“Please come in, the water has just begun to boil. How do you take your tea?”
“Generally with a whiskey back, neat. But cream and sugar will do fine,” I smiled.
Arlo, let me talk to Mr. Wells. You’ll just muck it up, stick with the monologue and I’ll stick to people.
Not this time Alan, I’ll talk to the old man. I’ve got a hunch.
I know you’ve got a hunch, it’s like a thorn in my head. Fine then. I’ll monologue for now.
Mr. Wells chuckled politely as he offered a seat and poured the steaming water into the cups. He took his own seat with a groan befitting his aged appearance. Already the odor of crisp mint tea gathered above the small table.
Nice job Alan.
“I’m afraid you find yourself in a dry home,” the old man clucked. “I assume you’re here about Samuel? It’s all the housekeeping staff can talk about lately. You know I don’t think they have ever agreed on a single thing. So what do I call you, Sir? I’m sure you know quite well who I am, but manners say I must introduce myself anyway. I’m Filbert Wells.”
“Mr. Wells, it’s a pleasure. I’m Arlo Croste. I am here about the missing fellow. But please don’t let me stop you, you were saying the staff doesn’t get along well? How so?”
“That bunch has argued amongst themselves since they arrived with the Wollberton family. I was allowed to stay after the Ashton’s departed simply because I’ve lived here so long. Sad thing about the Ashton’s. When Mr. Ashton died of age, Mrs. Ashton was just full of grief and sorrow. Poor dear took her life. I hear it was poison.”
“I see, terrible. And what of the Wollberton family and their staff?”
“Ah, the Wollberton’s. Can’t say I know the parents all too well. Always on holiday it seems. But the children, if you can call them that- they’re old enough to have children of their own you know. They listen to that swing music, loud, obnoxious, bah! Well as I hear it, the staff dislikes the lot of them, except for Mary Ingles. She’s sweet on the boy Samuel, and I don’t mean in a motherly sort if you catch my meaning.”
“Tell me, Mr. Wells, have you ever noticed anything odd in the home? Strange sounds or smells?”
“You mean the ghost? Of course I noticed him. Poor dead Mr. Ashton is always in the garden, he comes by searching for Mrs. Ashton. She did so love her garden, it’s where she killed herself you know. He never finds her, the Bible says you go to hell for suicide. Everyone know that. Although, his spirit has been absent for a few nights now. Strange I should think.”
Arlo! By God man, we need to get back to the house!
The smell in the staff quarters, it’s wisp-nettle and oak heart isn’t it. I’m sorry Alan, I should have known. We’re dealing with a witch.
“We gotta move Arlo!”
“I beg your pardon Mr. Croste?”
“Ah- it’s nothing. Thanks for the tea, you’ve been a big help.”
We ran out the door and through the garden. Our shoes clicking on the paving bricks. It was starting to get dark, the sun dipping below the line of trees. The kitchen was dark and we found the back door locked, thankfully Miss Wollberton had given us the keys to the manor house. We unlocked the door and slowly opened it, stepping quietly inside.
Okay Arlo, watch our step. I’ll keep an eye out, you grab the book.
I took Rasputin’s Journal down from where it was hidden. As I opened it the blank pages began to fill with softly glowing writing. It read: We have a problem comrades. The three argued. The butler and maid threatened to go to the police. The poltergeist came and took him and the witch took the other woman upstairs. There is much anger in this home.
Arlo, I need you to light the black candle.
Not yet, we need to check the rooms Alan. Trust me.
We moved slowly down the short hallway, Alan had his gun drawn. We splashed the revolver with holy water, taking care to get all the bullets wet. Just to be safe we took a swig ourselves, it couldn’t hurt right? We looked into the first room, of course it was empty but we could see framed pictures in the dying sunlight. Dark hair and smiles all around, standing with the Wollberton family and the rest of the staff here in the garden. This wasn’t her room. We caught her in the middle of taking something, or planting something. A hex bag no doubt, but we didn’t have time to find it now.
We checked the next room, the scent was heavy in the air, woody and sweet. Wisp-nettle and oak heart still smoldered in a small bronze brazier amid several fatty candles. Our suspicions were correct. We turned towards the last room but stopped, the wall was covered in ethereal ooze. Charles Winston, the butler, he was as gone as Samuel Wollberton. I lit the black candle and could feel the queasiness pass through Alan.
I’m fine Arlo, just get us upstairs. Don’t worry about me I’ll be able to make the shot, just get us there.
I have to worry Alan, you’re me too. I’m only half as good without you pulling your weight.
Just get us there Arlo.
We moved as quickly as we dared up the three floors, pausing before the attic door. The strange purple light from the candle danced along the walls. We made sure the Star of Thrumboe was visible hanging around our neck, it would give us a few extra moments before the spirit could see us. Extra moments that just might slip some lead in our gloves, give us a better chance for a knockout.
“Come no closer Detective! I’ll set the specter on you before you get halfway up those stairs.”
“Why? Why kill them all? What do you gain from it?”
“Revenge! What their family did to mine so long ago cannot be unpunished!” A scraping sound against the wood above. “And it’s not murder if there’s no corpse Detective, you of all people should know that.”
“What happened to your family? Why revenge, it seems cliche.”
We could hear a muffled whimper from the attic. The witch was keeping her hostage alive, at least for a bit longer. We already knew it was for sacrificial purposes, an ancient rite that would let the witch take the spirit from the house like it were a pet.
“You still haven’t told us why?”
“Us? You don’t have a partner, there’s no cavalry riding in. Do you take me for a fool?”
We eased ourselves up the stairs, painfully slow, dreading that the old wood might groan beneath our feet.
“We assure you there is an us. We’ve been here the whole time. Are we to believe a proper witch couldn’t see the auras surrounding us?”
We knew she couldn’t, the Star of Thrumboe prevented it. But we had to buy enough time to get up the stairs.
“Wouldn’t you like to take another look at us?”
“Be careful Alan, I can feel the ghost moving. She’s trying to flank us.”
“Quiet Arlo. Let me handle this.”
“It’s bleeding through the walls Alan.”
We could see the ectoplasm spreading along the wall behind us as the figure stepped into view. An older gentleman, and thanks to the candle we could see him plain as day. But the gun wasn’t for him, the spirit had no control over itself. He only wished to search for his lost wife and we weren’t going to prevent that.
“You really are quite mad,” said the witch. “But your madness won’t save anyone.”
We charged up the last few steps as the spirit of Mr. Ashton finally saw us. It bellowed as it reached out for us. I hurled the candle into the dark space of the attic and Alan lined up his shot. The flash was blinding but as our eyes cleared we saw the flickering visage of the witch. All wrinkles and slit-pupil eyes beneath a tight bun of white curls.
“Are you alright Mrs. Ingles? You’re safe now.”
* * * * *
“How did you know it was Ms. Iverson?”
The flatfoot stood there in his pressed blue uniform holding his notebook like a regular stooge. As far as they would ever know this was a clear-cut double murder, but the Police still needed the facts for their report.
We told the young Miss Wollberton the truth about what had occurred. Then together with Ms. Ingles we cleaned the place up before calling the Police. Most of the things from Ms. Iverson’s room we would end up keeping, the stuff we couldn’t use would fetch some money from this guy we know down on 9th street. We fixed our story, leaving the witch and the ghost out, it was just better that way.
Sadly, Mr. Ashton couldn’t be convinced that his wife was never coming back to the garden. He was set to wander in search of her. Such a harmless spirit though, we didn’t have the heart to banish him.
“The evidence Officer, the evidence. I spoke with all parties involved. Miss Susan Wollberton had no one else but her brother as their parents were always away on business or some other venture, and it’s rare that the guilty party brings a crime to your attention. The late butler, Mr. Charles Winston was a clean-cut guy. Fixed a neat scotch and was offended when I suggested that the late Samuel Wollberton was an angry and demanding youth. Ms. Mary Ingles was far too insistent on Samuel being alone all the time, and she was nervous but not murderer nervous if you get my meaning. I learned from Mr. Filbert Wells that she and Samuel were awfully close, not in the platonic sense. It seems Samuel enjoyed the company of older women.”
The Officer stifled a short laugh and we did our best not to roll our eyes at him, but instead smiled.
“Now, Ms. Winifred Iverson on the other hand had nothing nice to say whatsoever. She implied Samuel was a carousing tramp. We never did get her motivation for the murders nor discover where she secreted the bodies. Ms. Mary Iverson witnessed the murder of Mr. Charles Winston though was bound and gagged while the body was moved. She’s still a little delirious from being struck unconscious. I would suggest coming through the property with dogs, who knows you may get lucky and find a corpse or two.”
“We’ll handle the real police work if you don’t mind. A private dick obviously can’t handle the job, no motive- ha! You can clear out of here Croste, we’ll be in touch if we need anything else from you,” said the Officer.
We nodded and walked back to our car. As we climbed in we glanced at Miss Wollberton and Ms. Ingles giving them a smile and a wave. They mouthed a ‘thank you’ from across the driveway. We started our car and put it in gear. A quick stop at the bank to deposit the check payment and we’d be home. Normally we don’t take a check, but we figured we could trust it not to bounce this time.
You hope not Arlo. Rent’s due in a few days.
I know Alan, just drive the car. I need to get some scotch in me.
And I could go for a coffee. For the record Arlo, it’s my turn for the internal monologue today.
Only until you screw it up Alan, there’s a formula to this kind of thing.
I drove home, feeling exhausted. It had been a long night and the one thought on my mind was sleep. Despite everything, I-
We Alan. We…