NP1–Chapter 1: Still

 

CHAPTER I

Still

          Synopsis: (Set in the 1930s) Elaine Whitney—young, sweet, innocent—was murdered in cold blood. Now, Gifford Boswell the butler and her dotting guardian shuffles through his duties—failing to complete them with alacrity for the first time in fifty years. Ian Donald, the grim gardener, clips away at cream roses—the terror-stricken face of Elaine forever stained into his memory. Vera Sloan, sullen and bitter—her eyes hold the red-hot embers of a raging anger. Richard Ferrell, the newly-hired Chadwick family personal detective, takes control of the case. A sick obsession drives him to see the case through—to see who is tossed the weight of his dear Elaine’s death.

          In this first chapter we are introduced to the characters, their relationships, and the heinous crime.

 

 

Inside, the yellow light bulb above fizzled. Its warmth, setting aflame specks of floating dust, rested on Elaine’s bent head beneath. Her hair glowed in a gentle cascade of waves. Her profile it tenderly traced with a pale halo, running down the slope of her delicate nose, the gentle dip between her lips, and the soft rise of her chin. Her eyes shone with a bright serenity as they caressed each word which skipped across the book’s page.

Vera, the cook, slouched in a corner, her magazine long forgotten as she held a cigarette between two fingers. Taking a puff, she exhaled whirling wisps of grey. And through the cloud of smoke, her unwavering steel eyes stared at the girl less than a few feet from her.

On the kitchen door step, Ian and Boswell the gardener and elderly butler sat, waiting for dusk to beset the day. Boswell enjoyed his pipe, content at sitting in silence. Ian gazed inside at the yellow light and the sweet reader, pondering in grim quiet.

The crickets had forgotten to chirp. So had the bull frogs forgotten to croak. The only sound came from the bushes as the still breeze rustled their terse leaves in a dry symphony of untold secrets. Night slowly stole across the sky.

Elaine softly closed her book. Planting a gentle kiss on Boswell’s forehead, she whispered, “Goodnight, Papa. Don’t stay out smoking much longer.”

“Eh? Do you feel well, Elly?” He responded, concern creasing his wrinkled brow. “You do seem a little pale and it is earlier than usual…”

“Perfectly well, dear. It must be the lighting. No need to worry.” She smiled faintly and stepped out the door.

Ian rose. Mumbling a gruff goodnight, he too strode down the gravel path and around the corner where he caught up with Elaine. She greeted him with another smile, and a fraction of relief. He studied her with his unfaltering dark eyes. She bit her lower lip and looked up at him questioningly.

“You are ill,” he spoke into the dark, staring down the path, before sharply meeting her eyes.

Her gaze faltered. “Just a little queasy. I—I didn’t want to worry him.”

They listened to the crunch of the gravel beneath their feet in the deepening dusk.

“Look,” Elaine breathed, her face lit by the rising moon, “The clouds are speckling the indigo night like a honeycomb.”

Ian lifted his face to the dimmed stars in the sky, turning then to catch the bright stars in her eyes as they beamed with the acknowledgment of beauty.

“They’re lovely, aren’t they?” she whispered.

“Aye.”

They walked a little ways more, reaching the Chadwick estate cottage where Elaine and Boswell lived. Ian toyed with prickly roses beside the door.

“Good night. Thank you—for walking with me.” She looked up at his piercing eyes.

Picking one of the cream roses, he handed it to her.

She smiled soft and sweet. But an instant later her face froze as the bushes along the path stirred. Instinctively, she grabbed his arm.

Ian stood stalk still, peering into the night, the hair on the back of his neck prickling.

“It was just the breeze…Elaine,” he soothed, steadfastly looking into her wide eyes. “Go inside now.”

She loosened her grip and breathed. “Goodnight,” she repeated and closed the door behind her.

The crunch of gravel sounded behind Ian and he slowly spun around.

“These roses truly are exquisite,” a dry voice commented, and the possessor of the voice stepped into the circle of light cast by the overhanging lamp. His tall, gaunt shape was shrouded in a trench coat—a crimson rose tucked into his buttonhole. In one gloved hand he held a cream rose. With the other he picked the petals off and watched them float to the ground.

“Mr. Farrell,” Ian curtly nodded. The man’s shadow loomed past him.

“Detective—actually,” he inserted before continuing. “It truly is a shame they die just as soon as they bloom.” He observed the last petal fall. “—such a shame. Goodnight, Ian Donald.” And he pivoted on one foot and walked away into the twilight.

Ian stared after him, sat down on the doorstep, and waited. Half hour later, he got up and strolled down the path to his shack in the garden.

* * * * *

          With a start, Elaine awoke, gasping for breath. She felt the two blood-stained hands of her countless nightmares creeping around her neck, slowly constricting. The inky shadows of night swirled around her, jeering at her helplessness. Twisting, twisting. Tightening, tightening.

She staggered out of bed, reaching out into the gloaming. Tears trailed down her velvet cheeks. Her strangled screams whispered into darkness. Her hand grasped the bed stand and roved around the surface until she found what she sought. Lunging toward the desk, she snatched a slip of paper, crumpling it in her fist as her legs gave way. She clutched the desk desperately and slid across its surface, knocking over a glass vase. Elaine dropped to the floor beneath her.

The vase rolled off the desk and shattered into a thousand fractals, crying her unheard screams.

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3 thoughts on “NP1–Chapter 1: Still

  1. Abby, this was simple thrilling, dazzling, fantastic. You described all the characters and feelings so well. I truly felt as though I was in the story, feeling what Elaine and Ian were feeling. Bravo!!

    Liked by 1 person

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