Jarrett’s voice faded but the word dead seem to echoed.
A man, wearing a simple black mask, pushed forward from the crowd, calling out, ‘I’m a doctor, let me through!’ He reached the first step of the grand staircase and turned to look back at us, ‘I am sure everything will be fine,’ he said calmly.
‘Fine!’ Jarrett shouted, ‘she is dead, I tell you, look!’
He ran downstairs, stopped four from the bottom and showed us all his blood stained hands. There was a shocked gasp from the crowd.
A woman cried out and fainted, far to my right, a few people caught her. Voices whispered, fading in and out. I didn’t catch what any of them were saying clearly. I could see the worry, disbelieve and shock on the faces nearest to me though. Everyone was acting really well!
A young man pushed through, he was wearing a green mask just around his eyes. He spoke out, ‘I shall assisted you, Doctor Guilford!’
‘Thank you, Kingsley,’ the Doctor said, with a nod.
‘Let me through,’ a man’s voice called from somewhere at the back, ‘I am Chief Inspector Macklain! What has happened here?’
He was dressed in a proper dinner suit, complete with white handkerchief in the top pocket. His mask was black but he had pulled it off to reveal a face a lot older then his years, he had seen a lot of police action. His hair was thin with too much worrying and he had a large drooping moustache that was going grey. His dark eyes roamed the party as if seeking out the murderer all ready.
‘Louisa is dead!’ Jarrett wailed and stumbled down a step.
‘It’s all right, old boy!’ Doctor Guilford spoke.
‘I will get to the bottom of this,’ Macklain added as he came to the front of the crowd.
‘Me too!’ Am Jarrett’s younger brother, Crispin,’ a teenage male called out from the side.
He walked over and joined Doctor Guilford, Kingsley and Macklain at the bottom of the stairs. I noticed he was dressed differently from the other men. He was wearing white trousers, a red and white pinstriped jacket, a red bow tie and a white shirt. He had blond hair and his mask was gold colored.
‘Oh, I want to help too!’ I cried, putting my hand in the air and doing a little jump.
People glanced at me then I moved forward.
‘What can you offer, madam? Are you a nurse?’ Doctor Guilford asked.
‘No, but I’m a mortician.’
A ripple of stiff laughter came from the crowd.
‘Okay, an assistant mortician, newly qualified, as some of you know,’ I added.
‘I am sure we will be fine without you,’ Macklain said.
‘No, I am helping!’
Pulling a childish face, I hitched up my dress and stomped over to the staircase. I went up, feeling everyone staring at me as if I had announced some great evil. Reaching Jarrett, I took him in. His half white half black mask was askew, his face flushed and his body shaking.
‘Led the way,’ I demanded.
Jarrett nodded and walked up the stairs, I followed and so did the men. At the top, I snatched up a sliver candelabra but found as Jarrett walked down the left corridor that electrical wall lights were on. Still, I felt the candelabra was giving me some kind of power, so I clutched on to it.
Walking by, I could see the storm was still raging outside. Rain coated the windows, the wind was howling like a wounded wolf, the thunder determined to make itself heard and the lightening strobe flashing. It felt like the perfect night for a horrible murder in a spooky castle miles away from anywhere else.
An excited but nervous chill came over me. What was going to happen next? Who would the murderer turn out to be?
Jarrett led us back to the hallway I had first met him on then off to the left, up a flight of stairs. We were all silent through this walk. At the top, he paused at the first door which was wide open.
‘I can not go in,’ he said, ‘I can not see her like that again.’
‘Stay here then,’ I said and handed him the candelabra.
Stepping into the room, I saw it was a total mess. Bedding was strewn everywhere as were clothes, books with were flung about, a few rip pages here and there, there was also glass on the floor and damp stains on the rugs. The overwhelming smell of lots of perfume hit me full in the face.
Where was the body?
I looked harder and saw on the other side of the four poster bed, the back of a limb hand, fingers curled inwards, raised up like a tried child trying to answer a question in class.
‘Do not touch anything,’ the voice of the Chief Inspector said from behind me.
I stepped to the side and let the men in. The Doctor and Kingsley walked carefully around the other side of the bed. They began speaking in low voices.
Being careful not to walk on everything, which was really hard, I joined them and stared down at Louisa.
She was laying at a strange angle, her upper body slummed against the bed frame. Her right hand was raised, blood trailing down her arm. The left arm was fallen at her side. Her eyes were open, fixed on some point ahead, a startled expression on her pale face. Her lower body was sprawled out across a scrunched up rug, her legs wide open and only one shoe on her foot. The other shoe, I spotted poking out from under a pillow.
She was wearing a dark green dress with a large bow at one side but it was blood spattered. Her blonde hair was loose about her face and the bed, there were flecks of blood on the strands. There was also a pool of blood around her left arm which when the Doctor held it up, I saw a slash across the wrist.
‘Doctor?’ Macklain asked.
I jumped a little, being so focused on the body I’d not even noticed the Chief Inspector moving to my side.
‘Her neck has been broken,’ Guilford answered, ‘her wrists cut as if to make it look like suicide. There is bruising around her throat, hand marks and also bruises to her arms.’
I opened my mouth but the words didn’t come out. I wanted to say what a good actress Louisa was or was it a good life dummy? And also how great the murder scene had been set up but it felt all too real.
Sick rose in my stomach, I made a whispered, ‘excuse me,’ and walked out.
Standing in the hallway, I took a few deep breaths then noticed that Kendell had joined Crispin at Jarrett’s side against the wall.
‘Louisa?’ Kendell uttered.
I gave a quick shake of my head and turned away. My stomach was rolling over, ‘where’s the nearest bathroom?’
Kendell took my hand, led me down the steps, passed two closed doors then into a white bathroom.
I went to the sink, ran the tap and splashed water on my hands, arms and face. The cold water helped remove the nausea and shock. I also took a few handfuls of water to wet my dry mouth.
‘That was too real,’ I uttered, ‘she looked like a real body. I wasn’t expecting that. How did you do it?’
‘I…did not do anything,’ Kendell said stiffly, her voice still muffled by the feather mask.
I turned to her, water dripping off my face. She handed me a white towel which I used.
‘Who do you think murdered her?’ I asked, ‘wait, I’m not allowed to ask you because you probably know,’ I laughed.
Kendell looked hard at me.
‘Unless you don’t either, because you hired the actors?’
‘Actors?’ Kendell questioned, ‘there are no actors here.’
A loud knock at the door interrupted us. Kendell flung it back and the Chief Inspector was standing there.
‘I am sorry to intrude, but I need to question everyone. Please come to the dinning room now,’ he said.
‘Of course,’ Kendell answered.
Macklain turned away and she followed him. I dropped the towel on the hand rail and trailed after them. We went back the way we had come, finally down the grand staircase and into the dinning room, where I had gotten my glass of wine before. It was now gone from the table I noticed.
‘Please be seated,’ Macklain spoke.
Kendell sat down at the head of the table. I took the only other empty chair to her left. Beside me was Jarrett with his mask off, looking extreme pale and upset. He was also handsome, but now was not the time. Next to him, his brother and the rest of the chairs were filled out with other guests, all still had their masks on.
There were a few men standing around, looking at different things in the room as if they found a great interest in them. I noticed how they avoided looking at anyone else.
‘What is your name, Miss?’ Macklain questioned.
I looked at him, realised he was addressing me and replied, ‘Jane Walker.’
‘Mr Pitney says he found you wondering the hallways before his wife’s death, is that true?’
I thought for a few moments then said, ‘yes, I was lost trying to find my way down to the party.’
‘What time would this have been?’ Chief Inspector Macklain asked.
I pressed my lips together and tried to remember what my phone screen had said. The numbers wouldn’t come to me.
‘Do you recall at all?’ Macklain pressed.
‘Well, it was after seven when I arrived, I remember seeing that on my car’s clock but then when I came down to the ballroom, I heard it was almost nine. I didn’t think that much time had passed though!’
‘Yes, it was almost nine, Chief Inspector, when Miss Walker joined me,’ Kendell spoke stiffly, ‘ I can not tell you want time she arrived at.’
‘And you, Mr Pitney, what time do you think it was when you meet Miss Walker in the hallway?’ Macklain questioned.
‘It was around half past eight,’ Jarrett said gently.
Macklain rounded on me again, ‘do you remember hearing anything at that time, Miss Walker?’
I wiggled in my seat, feeling the pressure of all this questions. I didn’t realise this was going to be so intense! It was meant to be a game after all!
‘Let’s see,’ I spoke, ‘I remember hearing shouting, an argument, maybe? I followed the voices then I heard a door slam.’
‘What was the shouting about?’ Macklain shot at me.
‘I never heard any clear words.’
‘Did you see Mrs Pitney?’
‘Then what happened when you met Mr Pitney in the hallway?’ Macklain inquired.
‘I told him I was lost and asked if he could help me find the party. He did so,’ I answered.
‘Did you seem him again afterwards?’
‘No. He went back upstairs. I was with Kendell the whole time then, until I heard screaming and I joined everyone with going to the entrance hall,’ I explained.
Macklain paced away from me, went behind Kendell’s chair then came back again and went behind Jarrett and said in a low voice, ‘where did you go, Mr Pitney?’
‘Back to my bedroom,’ he answered, ‘I wanted to apologise to…to Louisa….’ he took a deep breathe then carried on, ‘when I got to the room, the door was open and she was…dead!’
‘What had you been arguing about, sir?’
‘Nothing! It was nothing!’ Jarrett shouted and slammed a fist into the table.
We all jumped.
‘Quiet, brother. Be calm,’ Crispin spoke and laid his hand on top of Jarrett’s fist.
Jarrett stared at me, hate in his eyes.
‘It was you,’ he hissed.
‘Me?’ I questioned, putting a hand to my chest.
‘You were jealous I was married!’
‘What? I don’t even know you!’ I responded then laughed nervously.
‘She would have had the time to go back,’ Kendell declared, ‘it would have only taken a few minutes!’
‘I? Kendell! What are saying? I had nothing to do with it!’ I cried.
‘It would have been easy for you, especially as no one knows who you are!’ Kendell exclaimed.
My next words died on my lips. I looked around the room with wild eyes.
‘What do you mean, Lady Whitwood?’ Macklain inquired.
I frowned. Lady Whitwood? Kendell’s last name was Steveson. Had she given herself a character name for the murder mystery game? Perhaps, everyone else had done to and that’s the other reason why I didn’t recognise anyone.
Kendell took a deep breath and accusingly said, ‘Miss Walker is a stranger amongst us! I did not know her when she came to the door, though she was dressed for the party. When I made inquires after her no one admitted they knew her.’
I froze, not sure what to reply to defend myself with, nor where any of this was going. I had a strange feeling that the murder mystery game had gone wrong somehow.
‘I know who she is!’ Jarrett shouted, ‘my childhood sweetheart! She followed me here, tricked her way into the party and murder my poor wife!’
Scrambling to my feet, I stood up and screamed, ‘that’s not true!’
Jarrett and Crispin also got to their feet.
‘She does sort of look like your old sweetheart,’ Crispin added, thoughtfully.
‘She is Jane Duneshaw! Arrest her, Chief Inspector! She is the murderess!’
‘No!’ I cried.
To be continued….