#14
THE ART OF MURDER – PART 2
 
◄♦♦♦►
 
AZURE CITADEL – TANGIERS, AFRICA – JUNE 1926
        
Prince Philippe Azure leans on the railing of the balcony off of his own private wing. He pours a small glass of whiskey and looks over the harbor as his large ship pulls in. He slowly takes a sip, enjoying the taste of the aged liquor and vanilla. Prince Azure sighs casually as he watches the ripples in the sea below. His mind is free and unbothered.
 
“Would you like to board the ship before the rest of the crew?” The commander steps onto the balcony
 
“That won’t be necessary.” Prince Azure shakes his head
 
Prince Azure takes another sip of wine as birds flutter across the golden sunset. Life couldn’t be simpler for the mature prince.
 
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Prince Azure inhales the warm, dry air.
 
“I noticed a letter on your desk.” The commander’s voice is urgent
 
“You know I do not tolerate snooping.” Prince Azure closes his eyes with a light-hearted chuckle
 
“The letter was addressed to Manoir Tombale.” The commander continues speaking, “I wasn’t aware that you and Mr. Masque were on speaking terms.”
 
“That is my business.” Prince Azure says, “If you are going to come with me to Blackwell Grange, you are going to need to learn which boundaries not to cross. Do not let your lofty position blind you from the fact that I am your Prince.”
 
“My apologies, your highness.” The commander lowers his head, “I was only concerned for your safety. The Masque’s and the Boddy’s have been tightly woven for a long time.”
 
“I am aware of the connection the Masque’s have to the Boddy’s.” Prince Azure declares, “I am aware of the connection the Boddy’s have to the Black’s. I am aware of the connection the Black’s have to the Gray’s and the Lavender’s.”
 
◄♦♦♦►
 
BLACKWELL GRANGE – CONNECTICUT – JUNE 1926
 
Sgt. Richard Gray groggily begins to feel the wetness that encases him. The rumble of thunder and patter of rain help urge Sgt. Gray to fully regain consciousness. He opens his eyes to find himself staring at a small nest of centipedes burrowing in the wet, muddy rain.
 
Sgt. Gray fearfully sits up only to discover that his left shoulder and left leg are aching from the fall. He is only wearing a tee shirt, socks, and underwear. The humid, summer rain increases the fogginess in the deep ravine.
 
He looks up to see the steep incline to the road.
 
“Shit.” Sgt. Gray stands up with the help of a sturdy branch, “How am I going to get up there?”
 
He looks down on way of the ravine to see a gradual incline to the road. He looks the other way to see the water flowing downhill, creating a small river in the ditch. Over the tops of the trees, he can faintly see the steeple of a nearby church.
 
Sgt. Gray is clearly closer to the village than he is to Blackwell Grange. He holds his ribs as he trudges towards the church.
 
◄♦♦♦►
 
Emily Peach watches as Ben Black the Fifth paces the room faster and faster. He is still wearing Sgt. Gray’s police uniform and is clutching the Pistol tightly. Miss Peach is shaking and crying, even though the Pistol isn’t being pointed or waved in her direction. Her scared, fearful frame of mind is causing Mr. Black to pace quicker with swinging, gangly arms.
 
Miss Peach takes a steady breath, looking around the run down shack. She doesn’t know how many bullets he has already fired, nor does she know how many bullets the Pistol can hold.
 
“Peter always said, ‘Ben you can’t think for yourself; you don’t know how.’ He’s right. I don’t know how!” Mr. Black hits his head with the pistol, “I thought I knew how but now that I have you in here I don’t know what we should do to send a message.”
 
“I didn’t know they were doing this to you.” Miss Peach speaks quietly, “I wouldn’t have let them do that to you if I knew.”
 
Miss Peach begins to cry again.
 
“Enough!” Mr. Black shouts, “Do I frighten you?”
 
Miss Peach doesn’t answer.
 
“I see, I see,” Mr. Black frowns, “You clearly don’t like me. We are going to have to do something about that.”
 
Mr. Black looks down at the police uniform he is wearing and smiles.
 
“I want to be Sgt. Gray again.” Mr. Black checks the buttons on the uniform, “You trust him, don’t you?”
 
Miss Peach brings her knees up to her chest.
 
“You like him, don’t you?” Mr. Black asks, “You like him a lot.”
 
Miss Peach looks around quickly – there is nowhere to run and nothing but heavy cardboard boxes and old chairs tucked under old tables.
 
“I can tell you don’t like Ben.” Mr. Black comes close to Miss Peach, the Pistol at level with her eye, “No one likes Ben.”
 
Miss Peach shuts her eyes as a single tear rolls out. Her lips are quivering and her hands are unsteady. He nearly screams as Mr. Black reaches forward and brushes her hair out of her face with his dirty, bloody fingers.
 
“Let me help you, Ben.” Miss Peach’s voice picks up suddenly
 
“Help?” Mr. Black laughs, dropping onto the floor beside her, “That’s all anyone has said. Peter said he’d help me. The Nurse said she’d help me. Father said he’d help me. Hugh said he’d help me. The Maid said she’d help me.”
 
Miss Peach stares into the beady, angry eyes of the homicidal lunatic – her biological uncle. Her heart is heavy with fear, sadness, and pity.
 
“Ben, I’ll get you away from this place.” Miss Peach sniffles
 
“They want me dead out there.” Mr. Black says, “I’m no good.”
 
“Ben, listen,” Miss Peach tries to coerce him, “My family in Mississippi lives somewhere where they have been safe from bad people for years and years. I could take you there. You’d be free. You could just be yourself. No doctors. No more tests.”
 
“No more tests?” Mr. Black repeats, a rising bit of hope in his voice
 
“I’m serious, Ben… Uncle Ben.” Miss Peach lays it on thick, “You and I could leave these people here behind. They aren’t good people.”
 
“I’m not good.” Mr. Black closes his eyes angrily
 
“You are just different.” Miss Peach says, “And rich people don’t like different. I’ll get us to the farm in Mississippi and you can help out around the fields. It’ll be a brand new start for you.”
 
Mr. Black lowers the Pistol, smiling, “Do you really think they’ll like me?”
 
“I really think they will.” Miss Peach says, “My family and friends went through unbelievable torment and pain. They’ll love you even more for surviving and not giving up.”
 
◄♦♦♦►
 
In the narrow Secret Passageway between the Study and the Kitchen, Mr. Miles Meadow-Brook and Mr. Thallo Green walk together past the dark alcoves and niches set into the brick walls. Mr. Meadow-Brook shines the brilliant beam of light from the flashlight into each alcove. Mr. Green holds onto the Statuette .
 
“We’ll only go halfway.” Mr. Meadow-Brook says, “The Kitchen side is boarded up.”
 
“We need to be thorough.” Mr. Green says, “We can’t just assume we are safe. That’s how people get shot. We’ll check the whole tunnel.”
 
They step over a drain with dried blood and rust.
 
“What do you think the first owners used these rooms down here for?” asks Mr. Green
 
“I’d rather not think about it.” Mr. Meadow-Brook steps around the drain in the center of the concrete floor.
 
“I noticed that Dr. Black was angry at you in the Kitchen.” Mr. Green points out
 
“He’s just worked up over this whole situation.” Mr. Meadow-Brook quickly clarifies
 
“I’m pretty sure he was mad at you.” Mr. Green stops walking, “Are you in some kind of trouble with Dr. Black?”
 
“No, no, not at all.” Mr. Meadow-Brook answers, “I may have tried suggesting that he buy my silence…”
 
Mr. Green frowns, “You blackmailed him?”
 
“I just need the money.” Mr. Meadow-Brook says, “I planned it better in my head.”
 
“How much do you need?” Mr. Green asks, “There are plenty of things you can do to earn that kind of money. The world is full of opportunity if you look in the right places. Rather than stand in line with a hundred men when they are only gonna hire one, you could be living large like Dr. Black. All it takes is the right friends and a tiny bit of courage.”
 
“I just need enough for Jane to live comfortably for the rest of her life,” Mr. Meadow-Brook says
 
“You aren’t dying, are you?” Mr. Green asks
 
“I don’t love her anymore.” Mr. Meadow-Brook admits
 
“I don’t understand.” Mr. Green says, “Why would you waste your time supporting her financially?”
 
“I can’t stay married to her. But I can’t leave her high and dry.” Mr. Meadow-Brook sighs deeply, “She’s depended on me for more than half her life. She isn’t all there in the head. We all know that.”
 
“This thing with Miss Peach is actually causing your marriage to end?” Mr. Green asks, “I didn’t realize you were taking it so hard.”
 
“I’m trying my best to keep it together,” Mr. Meadow-Brook says, “But to be completely honest with you, I hope those bullets were meant for Dr. Black and Miss Peach.”
 
“That’s a pretty straightforward thing to say.” Mr. Green says
 
“Dr. Black has always been a slimy, sneaky man.” Mr. Meadow-Brook says, “But I was always on his side. I was always helping him get out of trouble. I thought he would be eternally grateful for my hard work in keeping his medical practice afloat. Instead, he uses his mansion as a prison to take advantage of my wife. He gets her pregnant and keeps her here for the entire duration of her pregnancy. There is a whole other life that she lived inside this mansion for nearly one whole year.”
 
“Miles, I had no idea.” Mr. Green shakes his head in disgust
 
“I thought she was here getting better,” Mr. Meadow-Brook tightens his lip, “Hugh Black needs to pay for what he did to me and my entire life.”
 
“Then maybe you should blackmail him. But you need to surprise him by telling him some information he doesn’t think you know about.” Mr. Green lowers his voice and steps closer, “I sell Dr. Black a little more than just alcohol.”
 
Mr. Meadow-Brook eagerly listens.
 
◄♦♦♦►
 
In the Lounge, Mrs. Jane Meadow-Brook , Mr. Edward Clay , and Miss Vivienne Scarlet stand around the opening to the Secret Passage to the Conservatory. Mrs. Meadow-Brook brandishes a Candlestick .
 
“Should we all go in?” asks Mr. Clay, “We don’t know what’s in there.”
 
“I’m not going in.” Mrs. Meadow-Brook says
 
“You’d rather be out here alone?” Miss Scarlet asks
 
“I’m safer in a big, open room.” Mrs. Meadow-Brook holds up the Candlestick
 
“Vivienne?” Mr. Clay turns to her
 
“Let’s go.” Miss Scarlet sighs, stepping into the Secret Passage, “It smells damp in here.”
 
Mr. Clay steps inside and the two begin to descend the staircase.
 
Mrs. Meadow-Brook is all alone in the Lounge. She sighs and sits down on the sofa. Thunder crashes outside, causing her to drop the Candlestick with a shriek.
 
Dr. Hugh Black enters the room holding a ring of keys. He stares at the empty gun rack.
 
“Why is the Secret Passage open?” asks Dr. Black after a moment of silence
 
“Miss Scarlet and Mr. Clay went in there after Mrs. Peacock.” Mrs. Meadow-Brook explains
 
“Both Shotguns are missing.” Dr. Black goes over to the fireplace, “The Candlestick is missing too.”
 
Mrs. Meadow-Brook picks it up off the carpet from where she dropped it, “Here it is.”
 
Dr. Black takes it and puts it back on the mantel.
 
“I saw Mr. Green with the Statuette in the Hall earlier.” Mrs. Meadow-Brook says, “I believe Professor Plum was defending himself with a Wrench.”
 
“I suppose everything is a weapon when you are scared.” Dr. Black shrugs, looking down at the Fireplace Poker in his grasp, “Mr. Green’s Pistol is missing. Two of my Shotguns are missing. John has a Revolver in his room.”
 
“Should we ask him to get it?” asks Mrs. Meadow-Brook
 
“Perhaps we should.” Dr. Black says, “I’d like to be armed when the Shotgun makes its reappearance.”
 
◄♦♦♦►
 
In the Kitchen, Nurse Silver enters to find Mrs. White scrubbing the floor. She dips her brush into the soapy Water Bucket .
 
“What are you doing?” Nurse Silver asks, “Where’s Lord Gray?”
 
“He left.” Mrs. White answer quietly
 
Nurse Silver goes over to the back door and puts the wooden bar across the doorframe.
 
“Why didn’t you stop him?” Nurse Silver asks
 
“Lord Gray and I have a complicated relationship.” Mrs. White says, “Quite frankly I hope he passes out in the rain. Where’s Fivel? Isn’t he with you.”
 
Nurse Silver looks around, “He was right behind me.”
 
“He didn’t come into the Kitchen with you.” Mrs. White says
 
“He must have wandered off again.” Nurse Silver sighs, hurrying out of the Kitchen through the adjacent door to the Dining Room.
 
◄♦♦♦►
 
John Boddy , Yvette , Professor Plum , and Colonel Mustard lock up the Cellar door in the Back Stairwell. John and Yvette still hold onto the large wooden shield, despite the fact that the gunshots have ceased. Professor Plum brandishes the Wrench . Colonel Mustard holds a smaller key ring.
 
“That takes care of the exterior hatch.” Professor Plum says,
 
“I never noticed exterior cellar doors.” Colonel Mustard shrugs, “They must be new.”
 
“They are behind the Kitchen around the corner from the Swimming Pool.” John answers, “As a child, I used to play around the grassy little paddock between the mansion and the woods.”
 
 Dr. Black and Mrs. Meadow-Brook enter the narrow Back Stairwell from the Pantry.
 
“John,” Dr. Black takes his nephew by the shoulders, “Go upstairs and get your gun.”
 
“My gun?” John raises an eyebrow
 
“Just go get it.” Dr. Black says, “The shotguns are missing from the Lounge. It looks like our assassin ran out of bullets for Mr. Green’s pistol. Where is Mr. Green anyway?”
 
“Him and Miles are checking the passageways.” Mrs. Meadow-Brook says
 
“Ah,” Dr. Black nods, “Mrs. Peacock, Miss Scarlet, and Mr. Clay are doing the same.”
 
John looks around for a moment, “I don’t have it. I gave my Revolver to Brenda.”
 
“Miss Dove has it?” Mrs. Meadow-Brook asks
 
“I’ll ask her by myself.” Dr. Black lets out a long sigh. He hands the large ring of keys to Colonel Mustard, “Give the small ring of keys to Yvette and the large ring of keys to Mrs. White.”
 
◄♦♦♦►
 
In the Conservatory, Fraulein Bloom stands at the back door holding a small bottle. On the bottle, there is a picture of a skull above the words Poison . She is hidden behind the flora around her. Tall ferns and banana plants cover her and the empty bird cage.
 
She glances carefully into the empty room nervously and unlocks the side door to the Terrace.
 
As soon as the latch unlocks, Monsieur Alphonse Brunette barges into the Conservatory.
 
“Ooof! You scared me!” Fraulein Bloom gasps, “You look so rugged and handsome. Are you alright? Were you the one shooting?”
 
“What? No! Look, do you have the Poison?” asks Monsieur Brunette, shaking the rain from his damp beret.
 
“Do you have the Revolver?” asks Fraulein Bloom
 
Monsieur Brunette quickly trades the Revolver for the vial of Poison.
 
“Do you want to come inside and fool around a little?” Fraulein Bloom seductively blows the barrel of the Revolver.
 
“I’ll take a pass, Olga.” Monsieur Brunette sighs, “I haven’t seen or heard anything from the psycho shooter. I’ve been hiding well. You should try to do the same.”
 
“I thought it was you.” Fraulein Bloom says, “Who is it?”
 
“Just stay safe and shoot anyone you don’t recognize.” Monsieur Brunette says
 
◄♦♦♦►
 
In the Parlor, on the third floor of Blackwell Grange, Miss Brenda Dove reclines against the window on the cushioned bench. Mr. Ash hands her a freshly poured glass of ginger beer.
 
“Thank you, Reggie.” Miss Dove smiles
 
“I should really be seeing to the guests,” Mr. Ash tries to dismiss himself
 
“Stay,” Miss Dove says, “Sit. I need to talk to you.”
 
“Oh?” Mr. Ash sits down
 
“As you know, there are going to be some changes made around here at Blackwell Grange once Dr. Black and I are married.” Miss Dove says
 
“Changes?” Mr. Ash says
 
“Mrs. White didn’t agree with these changes and now Dr. Black is planning on firing her.” Miss Dove says, “All because she mishandled Fivel.”
 
“Mrs. White would never…” Mr. Ash stands up
 
“That ship has sailed. Dr. Black believes she has and so she will be removed from her position as the housekeeper as soon as the party is over.” Miss Dove says, “We didn’t want to embarrass her and send her off in front of all the guests. Think of this as her swan song.”
 
“And what other lies have you been telling?” Dr. Black enters the Parlor
 
“Hugh,” Miss Dove instantly sits up, startled by her fiancée’s sudden appearance, “I didn’t hear you come in.”
 
“Where is John’s Revolver?” Dr. Black asks
 
Miss Dove instantly panics, “Why would I have John’s Revolver?”
 
“Don’t play games.” Dr. Black’s voice is stern and menacing, “You have no idea what I’ll do in order to get you to cooperate.”
 
“Oh, her lies would never work, sir.” Mr. Ash says, “I know the ins and outs of this house better than anyone. I was only hoping she was smart enough to see that.”
 
Miss Dove’s face turns red, “I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
 
Miss Dove turns towards the door to the upstairs halls, but Dr. Black grabs her by the arm and forcefully shoves her away. The ginger beer spills.
 
“Hugh!” Miss Dove catches herself from falling
 
“Where’s the Revolver?” Dr. Black asks again
 
“I had the Revolver.” Miss Dove admits, holding her wrist in pain, “But I don’t anymore. Why are you so angry? You can’t honestly be this angry with me over stretching the truth with Mr. Ash? Our love can withstand anything, can’t it?”
 
“Love?” Mr. Ash scoffs, “If memory serves, you confidently told Miss Scarlet that you never loved Hugh. You said that Hugh was just your key into Blackwell Grange.”
 
Miss Dove closes her eyes and smiles, holding back all fear, “I’m not going to be bullied by the two of you.”
 
“Well isn’t that an interesting thing to say?” Dr. Black walks in front of Miss Dove, “What do you want with this mansion?”
 
“Brunette will know the truth when he sees your face.” Miss Dove says confidently, “He’ll know who you are and then he’ll kill you.”
 
“Kill me?” Dr. Black repeats, “What a dreadful thing to suggest. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m going to be around for a very long time. I don’t care that you don’t love me. I don’t need love. I grew up with everything I could ever want. Love is something people need when they don’t think they are good enough. I know I’m enough. I don’t need love.”
 
“You grew up without a mother’s love and it has hardened you.” Miss Dove tries to sympathize with her enraged fiancé
 
“Brenda,” Dr. Black subtly motions to Mr. Ash, “I survived just fine without my mother. I never knew her, so I never lost her. The housekeepers and nannies provided the nurturing and attention which every child deserves. I do not mourn Beatrice Black. I pity her for not getting to see what a wonderful man I grew up to be.”
 
“You are so full of yourself.” Miss Dove says
 
“That’s because you have never gotten to see just how extraordinary I am.” Dr. Black says darkly, “Mr. Ash, take Miss Dove to the Crypt.”
 
Mr. Ash slowly circles behind Miss Dove, reaching into his pocket.
 
“You and that elite little club will pay!” Miss Dove points at Dr. Black, “You’ll pay for what you did to all those innocent lives! Just try getting me downstairs without attracting the help of anyone. Everyone is on full alert.”
 
“That’s not going to be a problem.” Mr. Ash responds from where he stands behind Miss Dove.
 
Miss Dove looks down at her arm to see that she has already been stuck with the needle of the Syringe . She didn’t even feel it go in. Mr. Ash pulls the Syringe out and holds it up with a confident smile.
 
“What did you do to me?” Miss Dove asks frantically looking at her shaky hands, “What did you do?”
 
“Shh.” Dr. Black hushes, “Stay still. You’ll be in the Crypt in no time at all.”
 
Miss Dove’s vision becomes blurry. She tries to walk towards the side door that leads to the Trophy Room but falls to the floor. Dr. Black and Mr. Ash both stand on either side of her. Miss Dove’s vision fades completely as her hand falls limp against the carpet of the upstairs Parlor.
 
◄♦♦♦►
 
In the Shack, Miss Peach sees that Mr. Black has lowered the Pistol completely and is close to letting it drop out of his grasp. Miss Peach’s soothing, calming words about the farm have nearly won over his mind.
 
“The farm is beautiful.” Miss Peach says, “We all pull our own weight and then the whole farm eats together before nightfall. No money, no struggle. Just a community trying to survive together.”
 
Mr. Black listens to her contently, “This place is real?”
 
“It does sound like a story, doesn’t it?” Miss Peach keeps the Pistol in her line of sight, “It’s as real as this awful place.”
 
“On the farm I could change my name to Howard.” Mr. Black asks, “Or maybe Lance. I’d smoke a pipe and wear a straw hat with red trim.”
 
“You would just be Ben.” Miss Peach smiles, reaching her hand out for him
 
Ben Black the Fifth slowly reaches out for Miss Peach’s hand.
 
Miss Peach takes a deep breath as she feels his cold skin touch her.
 
As quickly as she can, Miss Peach grabs the Pistol and stands up, backing away from the pale, horrifying madman. She points the Pistol at him. He instantly puts his hands up.
 
“Emily?” Mr. Black has a sad, innocent look on his face, “W-Why are you doing this?”
 
“Oh God,” Miss Peach yells at herself for not being able to pull the trigger, “Stay on the ground.”
 
“Emily, I can help. I’m Sgt. Gray, remember?” Mr. Black stands up
 
“Stay down.” Miss Peach’s legs are wobbly, “Goddammit, I said stay down!”
 
Mr. Black sits back down on the wooden floor, “I’m so sorry, sister.”
 
Miss Peach feels a blunt, heavy object touch her back.
 
“Put it down.” Madame Rose holds one of the missing Shotguns against Miss Peach’s spine.
 

 TO BE CONTINUED