In his latest flash fiction challenge, The Great Penmonkey Chuck Wendig has
flogged asked us ever-so-very-nicely to choose a motif, genre, and setting to inspire our latest endeavors. Frequently one to avoid a challenge, this time I put quill to parchment in hopes of throwing him off the trail next time.
The Dice of Cursedness (which do, indeed, come with complimentary fez and negative sanity points) declared my aspects shall be Eyes, Cozy Mystery, and Train. Naturally I went with an Agatha Christie send-up, something I’ve always wanted to try. So, yanno, YAY.
Naturally this valiantly failed attempt will also be available (for FREE!) in my growing Flash Fiction collection on the Goodreads (NOM NOM NO-oh, wait). Just click on the sexy top hat lady in the margin and see where she takes you.
BLOOD, INK, AND MRS. FORTESCUE
In Which There Is No Such Thing As A Humble Opinion
The piercing cry of the train whistle startled Mrs. Hettie Fortescue from her nap. The gentle rhythm of wheels on tracks had rocked her straight to sleep, her crocheting draped across her knees. That, and the strange, distant sound of what she could have sworn was a mandolin. She tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a yawn and reached for the bifocals stung about her neck so she might check her watch. Surely they must be nearing Stokery St. Cross–it was nearly dusk.
Her glasses had just touched down on her rather prominent nose when another shriek caused her to drop them to her matronly bosom once more. The shriek would have been remarkably train-like, had it not been so much more remarkably male in tone. She did, however, give points for gusto.
“Oh, really.” She heaved herself to her sensible shoes as doors hammered open along the corridor. She opened hers with rather more decorum. Her neighbors thundered past to the cabin at the end of the hall, where they jostled and crowded in a most unorganized manner. She supposed she had best see what was happening.
“Pardon me,” she barked in a loud voice. “What is happening here, please?”
No one answered. Well, let that be a lesson to them, then. She did give fair warning.
She removed her best heirloom pearl hairpin from her respectable chignon and lodged it an inch deep in the nearest posterior. The resulting yelp and shuffle proved most satisfying. “I say, what is all this?”
The yelper gave her a baleful look not unlike the late Mr. Fortescue’s, adjusting his tweed britches. “There’s been a murder, madam. It’s best you return to your cabin.”
Mrs. Fortescue huffed. “Don’t be ridiculous, young man. Move aside, I’m a respectable widow.”
The scene within was not pleasant. A young man of about the same make and model as Tweedy Britches lay prone on the floor, limbs unpardonably askew. An old-fashioned quill, adorned with a bright peacock feather, protruded from his neck. Blood seeped from the wound, mixing with the ink from the pen.
It was all rather more Agatha Christie than strictly made her comfortable.
One of the half-dozen or so gawkers, a nervous, fluttery sort of woman, agreed. “It’s just like a novel!” She pronounced “novel” as “nov-ille”, as though this was how proper persons spoke. Of course, proper persons hardly ever read novels, however they were pronounced.
She knew she should have taken the 4:15 from Paddington when she’d had the chance. If she hadn’t decided upon the later train she might have been spared all this.
There were additional items of interest about the corpse, who looked as startled as everyone else by the whole situation. A sheet of stationary, lined with neat rows of flowery cursive, ended midsentence. And shattered pieces of black, glossy pottery of what appeared to once of been a cat. What remained of the head appeared to be missing its eyes.
The fluttery one squeaked when she pointed it out. “I know who it is!”
“So do I,” Tweed Britches declared, waving his newspaper. “It’s Mr. Chatterleigh!”
Mrs. Fortescue glared at him. “Mr. what? What sort of a name is that?”
“Umm, a fake one, madam.”
“Don’t ‘umm’ at me, young man, and explain yourself.”
He waved the paper again, a little less enthusiastically this time. “It’s a pen name, madae. Mr. Chatterleigh—whoever he is—
“Whom,” she corrected automatically. There was no excuse for bad grammar.
“Whomever he is, writes a society gossip column in the London Times. There have been several, all using the same name.”
She snorted. “I suppose that explains the absurd quill.”
“At any rate, he was given the cat statue by a Mrs. Abigail Featherstone as a gift for covering her latest affair so favorably. It had emerald eyes.”
“Oh,” sighed the fluttery one. “Isn’t she supposed to be seeing that divine Spanish tango singer rumored to be a spy for the Axis during the war? I hear Spaniards are horridly jealous.”
“Horribly,” Mrs. Fortescue murmured, picking up the unfinished letter. She ignored them all as they erupted into excited conversation, competing to be heard. That was trouble with people today, she mused. No one paid attention anymore.
Something half-remembered niggled away at the back of her mind. She ignored it, too, knowing it would find her of its own accord.
The letter wasn’t, as she expected, an unfinished column. It was a love letter, breaking off an affair. “I don’t think her jazz player is the only one Mrs. Featherstone was carrying on with,” she said out loud.
That stopped them. “Tango singer,” Tweed Britches volunteered, smug in correcting her for a change. She glowered; his face fell.
The niggling thing in her mind came forward with a suddenness that took her breath away, bold as brass. Her satisfied smile seemed to worry Tweed Britches more than her glower. She made a mental note to study the effect further on the young men in her own village at first opportunity. In her humble opinion, the young men of Stokery St. Cross had it coming.
“Tell me,” she purred. “Do Spanish tango singers play the mandolin?”
They all went quiet. There was no mournful strain of a mandolin now. But there had been; they’d all heard it.
“I’ll get the conductor,” Tweed Britches said breathlessly. “The train will have to stop in the next village so the police may be summoned.” They all thundered off again, some to fetch the conductor while the others attempted a heroic citizen’s arrest.
The satisfaction left Mrs. Fortescue in a rush. She had no wish to be delayed further than necessary. “Surely this can wait until Stokery St. Cross?”
But no one was listening.