Inheritance for Dummies
“Inheritance for Dummies” was published in the online Spring 2011 Quarterly of Strange, Weird & Wonderful Magazine. The e-zine’s graphics were commissioned specifically for Dummies, well worth the click.
The door chimes beckoned Trevor Pickering. He expected no visitors, so ignored the summons.
Not my job, Mother will answer.
The chimes persisted, penetrated his fascination with the multi-talented lovelies of bjvegasgirls.com.
Right, damn it. Mother’s on holiday.
He tore himself from the website, far more appealing than his original web destination, Monster.co.uk. Gainful employment held minimal appeal for one with his sensibilities and expectations.
He counted Mother among his most significant worries, much exacerbated by recent events. If some spa bubbled or belched, whether hot springs or mud, she was off, boiling away what shrunken puddles remained of the family’s once considerably sized fortune, Trevor’s much anticipated inheritance. “By the sweat of his brow” never appealed to him at any time during the four decades-plus of his life.
Trevor opened the entrance door. He needed to adjust his gaze downward at the elderly figure on the veranda. Albert Simpson reciprocated the stare, though at a steeply upwards angle, the coke bottle lenses of his horn rimmed spectacles magnifying his eyeballs. The little person cordially greeted Trevor.
“Good evening, Mr. Pickering”
The earliest of Trevor’s boyhood recollections included Albert, his Uncle Winston’s former retainer, an old codger who had barely changed over the years, wrinkles and creases every which way. He wore a hat from another century, a black derby. His spectacles and the teacup handles he called ears kept the hat from slipping past his eyebrows.
The parcel next to Simpson stirred Trevor’s interest, a flat top steamer trunk. A hinged lock, as tarnished as the rest of the brass fittings, secured the lid to the bulky container, a heavy looking beast.
Well traveled by the look of it, all dents and scuffs. Could that be the one mentioned in Uncle’s Last Will?
He glanced over the top of Simpson’s derby toward Uncle Winnie’s Bentley parked at the kerb. The light of a street lamppost bathed the vehicle, like a giant beetle, solid black and all curves.
Hmm, empty? How in heaven’s name did this midget manage the trunk up the five steps to the veranda without creating a commotion?
“Well, well,” said Trevor, “long time, no see. To whom do I owe the–pleasure of a visit from my departed uncle’s manservant.”
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Pickering? The reading of your uncle’s Will was a mere fortnight ago.”
“Humor, Simpson, a friendly greeting. As among equals, so to speak, in these politically correct times. Come to gloat have you?”
“Hardly. In fact, quite the opposite. If you would be so kind as to allow me into your home, I will explain.”
“Fine, suit yourself.”
Trevor turned abruptly, abandoned his late Uncle’s former retainer at the front door, and retreated into the sitting room. During a lifetime of visits to Uncle Winston’s household, Trevor took little notice of the servants, with the exception of the big, retarded one. Him, he avoided, the uncle’s beast of burden around the mansion or wherever needed.
Of late, Trevor’s indifference toward Simpson had turned to dislike. The little man had done much, much too well at the reading of the Last Will and Testament. Winston Pickering never married, no children, none acknowledged in any case. Two nephews, Trevor and cousin Rodney, were his sole familial heirs. Yet, he bestowed his three lifetime servants a sum of cash large enough on which to retire. Free residence at his mansion until the end of their days added insult to injury. Most galling of all? Nancy-boy Rodney, walked away the champion, a three-million pounds sterling prize in his pocket.
Rumors ran amok concerning Uncle Winston’s eccentricities, very strange though never proven. Covens and wizardry, animal sacrifices, even orgies. Trevor assumed dear Uncle Winnie must have buggered Rodney at some occult festivity or another.
He sat and nestled himself into the gentleman’s chair, part of Mother’s rose Victorian seating collection. The sight of Simpson beneath the wide entrance way to the room, the trunk chest high beside him, surprised Trevor. He expected the old boy to be still struggling.
“I’ll be brief,” Simpson said, “and need only your signature on an additional—um, legal document.”
“Additional document? I signed every damned legal document there was at the reading. What’s this all about?”
“Your cousin, Mr. Rodney Pickering, experienced a change of mind.”
“What? A change of mind? About inheriting more than three-million pounds? Bollocks. Is this some sort of joke? Rodney, the silly bugger, can be one hell of a git. Hold on, he’s outside, isn’t he? Tittering away, hidden behind a hedge or something?”
Trevor stood, brushed past Simpson in the entrance hallway and strode down the narrow passage to open the entrance door.
Before exiting onto the veranda, he shouted, “Rodney, come out damn it. The silliness is over–enough. Rodney!”
Simpson called after him. “I assure you, your cousin Rodney chose not to fulfill the terms of the inheritance agreement. You are next in line.”
Trevor ignored Simpson and cajoled his cousin. “Rodney, come out, come out wherever you are. Enough is enough, The fun and games are over.”
No response, no movement, only the stillness of the early evening responded. His cousin was nowhere outside.
“Damn it, Rodney!”
Trevor returned, shut the door and paused a short distance past the entrance, his tall figure framed in the doorway. Arms folded, he leaned forward to glare at the much smaller man.
“Not some silly prank, then?”
Unruffled, Simpson returned the stare. “Indeed. Not a prank, silly or otherwise. Not in the least.”
Trevor straightened to his two-meter height. “Huh. Well then, let’s get on with it, shall we? Mind you, I’ll be wary of any bare hype you attempt.”
“I should phone Rodney. To assure myself that….”
“I’m afraid Mr. Pickering is–apparently indisposed for the time being. Rather difficult to reach. You may wish instead to speak with your uncle’s solicitor. I have the gentleman’s contact information, if you like.”
Simpson retrieved a business card from the inside pocket of his top coat, retrieved and handed the card to Trevor
Wary, Trevor accepted it.”Uncle’s solicitor? Not the same one at the will’s reading?”
“No. Retained for different circumstances.”
“So, Rodney’s indisposed, eh? Well, apparently my cousin’s indisposition has become my invigoration. Three-million pounds worth of invigoration.”
“Indeed,” said Simpson, who without another word, turned and departed without waiting escort from Trevor.
The trunk squatted on the exact spot where first set down in the hallway. Trevor examined the signed document, not without some hesitation despite the clarion call of three-million pounds.
What’s this, eh? Goatskin, perhaps? Certainly not your humdrum, paper hardcopy.
The agreement and instructions were plain enough, no legalese folderol other than the phrasing for the consequences of failure to complete the terms of the agreement. “Loss of all rights to the inheritance.” Reasonable, but followed with the odd, “As well as the unfettered use of the undersigned’s Prime, until such time as a replacement Prime is made available.”
Simpson did not act so easy-breezy when Trevor inquired about the nature of a Prime, apparently not the mathematical concept. Something more akin to Uncle Winnie’s wizardry claptrap.
The document was a wonder. Horizontal lines of ultra-precise handwriting ran from top to bottom, excluding the graphical flourishes. The color of the ink, a burnt brown hue, reminded Trevor of the scabs formed over his childhood abrasions. A continuous, interwoven pattern framed the edges, chock full with bizarre creatures of the imagination, a dark imagination. They blossomed from each corner to form a larger weave of images, drawn in a variety of earth tones.
Trevor scrutinised the myriad of small figures. Stare too long and the complex pattern created the illusion of movement. Dear, dear me, they’re shagging their arses off. All rather enjoying themselves, too.
A flicker caught his eye. He glanced at the up-ended steamer trunk. Nothing. Only his imaginings, some stray firing of neurons in his visual cortex, or who knew what.
Simpson had emphasised not to open the lid of the trunk until midnight of the next new moon, a bit more than a week off. He spoke some nonsense about the current waning gibbous, etc., whatever. Rodney had broken the oath. Oath? Simpson meant contract, obviously.
Cousin Poofta, apparently too impatient to wait-out the lunar cycle, opened the trunk. Rodney did personify instant gratification, but to risk losing over three-million pounds, the man was daft. He wondered just how Simpson discovered his cousin broke the terms of the contract. Some built-in broadcasting gismo, perhaps?
The document dictated the exact manner of disposal for the contents of the trunk, no deviation allowed. Once that was accomplished, an electronic deposit would fatten Trevor’s banking account. He had wearied of withdrawing the thin cash deposits Mother transferred into his chequeing, a demeaning exercise. He was a man of impeccable taste, too long stifled. Expensive, impeccable taste.
Mindful of his sciatica, Trevor bent from the knees to lift the trunk. Well, then, to the cellar with you, until the fulfillment of my destiny. How heavy could it be? Simpson managed to move it. Every attempt to lift, push or pull failed to budge the trunk. He considered the crowbar in the boot of his car but the evening was too far along to waste additional energy, let alone place the wooden floor at risk of damage. He surrendered, retired to bed, intent on calling Simpson in the morning.
Trevor slept, drifted off to a place where his whims were catered to without complaint or hesitation, where people knew their place in the Greater Scheme of Things. When he awoke after midnight to relieve himself, his imagination acted-up. He swore the patter of feet, light, as if a child or a slight woman, disappeared down the staircase. Impossible. The century old steps creaked under a gnat’s weight.
He paused at the top of the stairs. A chill emanating from the entrance hallway raised the hairs on his arm. He thought better of a more thorough inspection, chalked the footsteps up the shifting of an old house and returned to bed.
Sleep returned if uneasily to him. A cascade of thumping disturbed his slumber. A final crash, the loudest of all, startled him awake. He glanced at the alarm clock on the bedside stand; over two hours had passed. Confused as to whether the sounds originated in his head or the real world, he abandoned the warmth of his bed to investigate. As a precaution, he snatched the cell phone next to the clock and pre-dialed the police .
The darkness below obscured Trevor’s view from the top of the staircase. If anything the chill from downstairs was stronger. He switched on the ceiling light fixture for the entrance hallway.
Nothing out of the ordinary there. Hold on, nothing there? Where’s the steamer trunk. Bloody hell, someone’s broken-in.
Trevor hurried back to his room to snatch the tennis racket under the bed. Weapon in hand, he bellowed threats, leapt two steps at a time down the staircase and rushed into every room on the first floor to switch-on all the lights. Sheer curtains billowed from a window left partially opened. The trunk lay sideways on the floor at the foot of the window.
He pressed the call button to summon the police.
Though past 4:30 A.M., the commotion in front of the Pickering’s Victorian home roused much of his well-to-do neighbors. Curiosity lit the bedroom’s of several surrounding homes, as well as pulled aside their window curtains. The flashing lights of the police vehicle encouraged such boorish behavior. Trevor grimaced at the sight of Struthers, his closest neighbor about seventy-five meters distant across the road. The nosy loon stood tiptoe on his veranda and peered through a pair of binoculars.
So much for renowned English reserve, gone the way of the dodo.
At least the police Sergeant and his partner, a constable, conducted themselves in a professional manner. They and Trevor gathered in the sitting room to review the officers’ preliminary findings.
“Nothing else appears to be amiss,” said the Sergeant, a robust man who spoke with great certainty. “We’ve conducted a search of your grounds. No indication of an intruder–or any trespasser, for that matter. Someone entering or exiting through that window.” He paused, tilted his head towards the offending structure, “Would leave some manner of footprint or impression in the soft soil. No indication of forced entry anywhere. Still.”
“Someone moved that steamer trunk,” said Trevor. “Someone had to, Sergeant; inanimate objects don’t move themselves. I left it in the hallway, before retiring to bed. Someone dragged the thing to the sitting room. Simple. The racket awakened me.”
The policeman’s expression remained professionally neutral. “In the bedroom, on the second floor, where you slept?”
“Yes, the bedroom.” Where else, you dolt, the cellar?
“Yes, certainly,” the officer said. “In any case, SOCO will come by later during full daylight hours, just in case we may have missed something. One never knows unless one is thorough.”
Puzzled, Trevor asked, “Soco?”
“My apologies, sir. Our forensic team. Experts. Quite a thorough bunch, too.”
“Fine, Sergeant. Anything to get to the bottom of all this.”
“Indeed,” said his constable.
“Well then, Mr. Pickering, we’re done here, for now. If you would be so kind as to sign here and here, we’ll be out of your way. A reminder, please remain at home, forensics will contact you later today.”
Trevor signed the form and the two police officers turned to go. The Sergeant stopped, faced Trevor one last time.
“By any chance, have you ever sleepwalked?”
Trevor swallowed a sarcastic reply. “No, no–I do not sleepwalk. However, I do suggest you investigate Mr. Simpson’s whereabouts tonight, as I previously recommended.”
“Hmm. Good evening, uh–morning, rather.”
Trevor escorted them to the entrance. He closed the door and twisted the lock with such force, his thumb ached for hours.
The double tone rang again and again in the kitchen phone handset.
5:30 A.M. be damned, the sawed-off bugger best get his wrinkled arse over here. I demand some explanation.
“Simpson here,” an elderly voice answered, sleepy, somewhat befuddled. “Who–who is this?” Decades of deference prevailed. “May I help you?”
“What the hell is going on? How dare you intrude into my home, Simpson. What sort of game are you playing?” White noise hissed through the earpiece. “Hello, hello, are you there?”
“Mr. Pickering, I’ll be at your home within the hour. I assure you that breaking and entering is not my forte nor inclination, in the least.”
“Oh, I agree. You certainly bungled this one.”
A dial tone followed the click from Simpson’s end of the connection.
Trevor sat cross-legged in his silk robe, as befitting a gentleman wearing pajamas. His loathing for Simpson’s coke-bottle lenses intensified the more he studied them. He offered no seat.
Simpson said, “Both Mrs. Duckworth and Miss Wilson would be more than happy to attest to my whereabouts earlier this morning. Our rooms adjoin one another; they are light sleepers and the floorboards quite squeaky. Alas, they are well aware of the number of times I visit the loo throughout the night.”
“Oh, yes, certainly. The word of one’s colleagues of a lifetime is beyond suspicion or reproach.”
“May I remind you I never left your sight?
“My return to the sitting room, eh?” said Trevor. “My back was turned towards you then.”
“I did not come here at a moments notice to attest to my innocence. Rather, for your sake, the oath….”
“Who moved the bloody trunk then and what’s in the damned thing? Why wouldn’t it budge for me?”
“Oath? Bollocks. Contract. It’s a contract, man!”
“Very well–the contract–if you recall, forbids disclosure of the contents, provides only the details of disposal. As for your problem moving the steamer trunk, I have no idea.”
“Bloody hell, you don’t.”
“Must I reiterate the significant advantages to you, Mr. Pickering, if….”
“Belt up, man. Don’t lecture me. I’m well aware of the advantages and consequences….”
“Yes, assuredly,” said Simpson.
Trevor ignored him. “If I adhere to the provisions of the contract. Ridiculous provisions, I might add. What else would one expect from an old nutter like Uncle Winnie, a ventriloquist for Christ’s sake. How the hell does one become a multi-millionaire ventriloquist?”
“Hardly from ventriloquism. Your Uncle Winston was a keen businessman. His initial success with Mugsy Malone….”
“Good God, I haven’t seen the dummy since my tenth birthday party. Uncle’s skill was uncanny; not a twitch from the old boy’s lips. That dummy could fetch a pretty penny from collectors, I’ll bet. Where is it, anyway? And that retard, whatever happened to him?”
“Recently discharged, returned to family in Ireland. As for Mugsy–years ago, Mr. Pickering donated….”
“Donate? Oh, for bloody sake. Is it gone, already?”
“Quite binding legally and otherwise,” said Simpson. “In any case, his success with Mugsy made opportunities available, which he took to full advantage. His entertainment production company made him the millions.”
“How wonderful for him.”
“And for you, since your cousin chose not….”
“Now, that is wonderful, if strange. Look, take the trunk for the time being, return it just before the new moon….”
“No, Mr. Pickering, the entire responsibility is yours. The–contract clearly states so.”
Excluding Trevor’s increasing sense of something out of the norm, no serious incidents occurred the second night. Before retiring for bed, he decided to inspect downstairs one last time.
At the top of the stairs he flicked on the switch for the lighting. Nothing. He descended to the unlit entrance hallway and entered the sitting room. His concerns proved imaginary. The steamer trunk hulked near the corner, left there earlier, no problem to move whatsoever. The light from the Moon fell inches short of the trunk’s side, and cast a pale glow across the room’s surfaces and furnishings nearest to the locked windows. Semi-hidden in the gloom, unfamiliar shapes and objects usurped everyday items, transformed by the shadows and moonlight.
The curtains swayed slightly as Trevor turned to go. Were his eyes playing tricks?
Did the lid move, push the curtains?
He stepped towards the trunk, stopped short, fought an urge to back away, better yet, to turn and run. He struggled to maintain his dignity and walked off as casually as possible. In the hallway, the intense sense of fear, he could call it nothing less, disappeared. Relieved, he went to bed but made sure to lock the bedroom door behind him.
The next morning, mid-breakfast, he decided a short holiday to Withernsea was just the thing to relieve his anxiety and kill the proverbial second bird with one stone. He planned to return on the day of the new moon; let the bloody trunk rot in the sitting room. The air and the ocean, a block off from the Pier Hotel in Withernsea, should do wonders for his spirits. No more nights of ill ease and overactive imaginings. He phoned to make a reservation, discovered off season accommodations available the very next day, an hour’s drive south away from Bridlington, his uncle’s estate, but most of all, from Simpson.
The day passed uneventfully, a trip to the market to purchase items needed for his mini-holiday. Before retiring to bed, Trevor prepacked his luggage and set the alarm clock on the side table for 6:00 A.M., assuring his departure by 7:00 A.M. He pulled the bedspread past his shoulders. Sleep stole him away, though not far enough.
A voice disturbed his slumber for what seemed like the entire night, the words indistinct, though familiar. He clung stubbornly to his refuge, his unconscious, as tossed and turned beneath the covers.
“Damn it, Trevor. Help, help me!“
Fully awakened by his own shout, Trevor’s eyes flicked open. Sunlight seeped past the edges of the closed window curtains. The bed sheets lay about strewn and twisted, the winter cover kicked to the floor. He glanced at the digital display of the clock on the side table and examined the alarm switch.
Bloody hell, nearly 8:30. I would have sworn–idiot! Sweet Jesus, I must go. Escape from anywhere near that damned trunk.
He rushed from bed to ready himself for the trip south.
The gaffer at the Pier Hotel delivered Trevor’s beer, a pint of Courage Directors Winter Warmer.
“Here ya are, sir. Been awhile, pleasure to see ya again. Not all that many holiday visitors this time of year.”
He placed the pint before Trevor, one of three customers seated at the saloon bar.
“Ah, yes. Good man. Thank you.” Trevor glanced about the pub of the hotel. An older couple in the lounge bar sat at a table nearby an open hearth; the artificial logs of a gas-fed fire warmed them. Outside, an overcast sky chilled the air. He intended a brisk walk along the ocean promenade in any case, then a jaunt to the market’s shops.
“Staying with us for a bit are ya?” said the gaffer.
“A bit, thank you. I’ll enjoy my pint now.” Trevor preferred a certain social distance with hired help. Better that way–assured proper respect and, as importantly, privacy.
His hair rustled in the ocean breeze, colder than he expected. The turned-up collar of his long topcoat protected his earlobes against the on-and-off again gusts; nonetheless, the tops of his ears still ached. His most recent flame, Mildred, thought the graying in his dark brown hair added a distinguished flair. Quite the gold digger, she. Wonderfully talented in bed, however. He would dump her as soon as the inheritance popped-up in his cheque account. He turned-off the promenade path and headed toward the street shops several blocks inland. No doubt this time of year, a bargain or two waited for the plucking.
Trevor picked-up the woolen pullover from the shelf, held it higher in the air for the shopkeeper to see.
“Genuine Irish wool, sir. High quality, heavy, very warm and lasts for years. Good in wet weather, too.”
“Yes, yes–the cost?”
“One hundred quid, sir”
Two pedestrians on the pavement passed by the shop window. Cousin Rodney walked in tow behind some old biddy, his arms filled with packages like some pack animal. Trevor dropped the garment onto the shelf. Without a further word to the shopkeeper, he dashed out the shop.
“Rodney!” he called to the retreating figures.
The plumpish woman stopped first, then Rodney. Unlike his cousin, she turned to face him. Silver strands of hair squirmed from beneath the edges of her burgundy woolen hat; the locks contrasted against its bold color. Trevor caught up to them. His cousin and he towered over the woman, a little person.
“May I help you?” The woman’s manner indicated anything other than a desire to help.
“My cousin most certainly may,” he said. “Rodney, old boy, turn around, look at me, will you? Why the odd behavior?”
He glanced at the woman. Where have I seen her?
She lightly tapped Rodney’s arm. “Excuse me, do you mean my–Basil?” Her companion turned to face them. “Isn’t that right, Basil? Tell this young man, ‘you are mistaken.'”
Drama and flamboyance defined his gay cousin. The so-called Basil’s expression displayed little animation. His face may appeared sculpted the same, line-for-line but the spirit behind his expression and manner fell far short of Rodney’s joie de vie.
Such a lifeless sod. Could I be somehow mistaken? Drugs, perhaps?
“You are mistaken,” said Basil.
The woman pressed her companion. “Tell him your name, tell him, ‘my name is Basil.'”
“My name is Basil.” The words tumbled listlessly from the man’s lips.
She stared at Trevor, “You see, he….”
His cousin mumbled on, not content to suffer in silence. “My name is Basil, Basil. My na….”
She touched Rodney’s arm again, “That’s enough dear, the nice man heard you. Now tell him ‘I’m on holiday from the Home.’ Go on, ‘I’m on holiday from the….”
“Oh, Bollocks!” Trevor stepped face-to-face with his cousin. Very un-English but circumstances dictated decisive action. “Rodney, for bloody sakes, snap out of it, man. Rodney.”
The same blank stare answered him. “I’m on–I’m on holiday….”
“Young man,” the biddy warned. “If you do not stop your harassment, you’ll force me to take measures.”
Trevor grabbed Rodney/Basil’s topcoat lapels, shook him. “Rodney, snap out of it. Rod….”
Trevor lay flat, his back against the walkway. A man in a uniform briefly scrutinised his eyes. Gray sky framed the medic’s head as he held Trevor’s wrist in one hand to measure his pulse.
“Don’t fret, sir, we’ll have you to the Casualty in no time.”
“Wha–what are you talking about?”
The wheels of a gurney rolled into Trevor’s pavement view of the world at large. The man’s colleague folded the gurney.
What the hell happened. Where’s Rodney–the old biddy? I must get home. No, no–to my hotel. Trevor felt fine.
He scrambled onto his haunches. The action grabbed the first medic’s full attention.
“Sir, please be still. You collapsed. Luckily, a gentleman and his mother caught you before you hit the pavement. They phoned us. Sudden collapses are serious business. You should be examined….”
“I’m fine, I’m fine–bloody hell.” Trevor rolled to his side, got to his feet. He tore off the blood pressure gismo.
“I’m fine, damn it. I’m not going anywhere but back to my home–uh, hotel room.”
His pulse and blood pressure was normal. After much tomfoolery, the signing of release forms, etc., Trevor returned to his hotel room. He recalled nothing of his collapse, no swooning, vertigo, sense of unease. Nothing. Strangely, the thought of finishing his holiday repelled him.
Why? I should stay, investigate.
Whatever initiated his collapse remained a mystery, along with the whereabouts of his cousin, not to mention the woman.
Where had I seen her before? Of course, one of my uncle’s servants, along with Simpson. He must be connected somehow.
His uncle’s retainer picked up the receiver on the third ring. “Simpson, here.”
“How nice to hear your voice again, Simpson–from here on my holiday in Withernsea.”
Trevor paused to listen for any telltale giveaway. Nothing.
“May I be of assistance, Mr. Pickering?”
“You’d never guess whom I bumped into–Rodney, of all people, or Basil, as he’s appears to be known hereabouts.”
“Basil, sir? I’m afraid you have quite confused me. So, Rodney is in Withernsea, you say? How nice, I do hope you enjoy one anothers company.”
“Listen to me you sod. What has happened to him? He didn’t recognise me from a hole in the ground. What have you lot done to him? You and that other midget, the dumpy, silver haired witch.”
Why did I call her a witch?
“I’m afraid you are ranting, Mr. Pickering. May I suggest that you contact your uncle’s solicitor. I believe you have his card.”
“This has everything to do with that damned trunk, doesn’t it.” No response. “Doesn’t it, damn it?”
“Good day, sir.” The dial tone ended their conversation.
Trevor shouted into the handset, “Bugger.”
He suppressed the urge to slam the phone set against the wall. Let the little wanker disconnect on me in person tomorrow morning. I’ll get to the bottom of this. So much for a relaxing holiday.
He searched for his luggage. The return trip to Bridlington was less than an hour.
Trevor opened the entrance to his home, switched on the lighting in the hallway. He peered into the partially lit sitting room. Nothing amiss. The trunk squatted where he left it. He started up the staircase; halfway to the second landing, a voice called to him. A familiar voice, his cousin’s voice, muffled and melancholy. It came from the sitting room.
“Trevor! Help me. Oh, Trevor, please, you must help me.”
He trembled; the follicles of hair across his entire body stiffened. This is madness, complete madness. He willed himself to flee up the stairs, out a window, cower in some locked room, anything but heed his cousin’s voice. His body refused to retreat, he struggled to turn about, to descend to the first floor. As in Withernsea, something compelled him to act against his good sense.
The sound of weeping broke his catatonia. He regained the movement of one leg, than the other. He rubbed his arms, embraced himself to increase his warmth. Some moments passed; the desire to escape faded, replaced by calm, unnatural considering his circumstance. He descended, paused on each step to listen for any voice. Only the sound of weeping drifted up the staircase. He turned into the room; the steamer trunk was the source. This is no bloody dream, not a bloody dream in the least. He glanced at the keychain, the key for the brass lock gripped in his hand. When did I–?
The crying continued, insistent, no longer pleading. Trevor knelt before the trunk, his willpower as frozen as each puff of his exhaled breath. His left hand rested on the trunk’s surface. He inserted the key, twisted; the brass latch unlocked, sprung open. He lifted the lid.
A ventriloquist’s dummy, the tuxedoed figure of Mugsy Malone, lay in an interior of padded satin, a miniature coffin, complete with a satin pillow beneath the mannequin’s head. Tears streamed down the sides of its enameled face. Slits appeared at the bottom of its closed eyelids; slowly they widened. The twisted mouth, carved forever in the travesty of a half grin, opened, moved up, down again in silence, practicing. Then it spoke.
“Thank you, Trevor.” The voice was Rodney’s. The dummy’s eyebrows arched to their fullest height. “Your turn, now, dear cousin.”
Mr. Thomas Kenton, solicitor for Bromley, Chum and Bilden, Esqs., Ltd., accepted the signed document from Albert Simpson, who returned to the seating arranged for him and his two colleagues. The solicitor marveled at their transformation.
They seemed to have lost sixty years of aging amongst themselves since last we met. Startling the changes a small fortune can accomplish.
“Well then,” Kenton said, “we’re finished here. To reiterate, the Pickering nephews reneged on the terms of the addendum to the Will of the late Mr. Winston Pickering. Terms required for their inheritance. The three million pounds, as he so instructed, by default reverts forthwith to you, Mr. Albert Simpson, Mrs. Agatha Duckworth and Ms. Mary Wilson. Congratulations on your good fortune, ladies and gentleman.”
“Thank you, Mr. Kenton,” said Albert, “for your timely actions in regards to this matter. We’ll be bidding you good day now. Ladies?” The three slipped off their seats. Of them, only Simpson’s shoe tips had reached the floor while they sat.
Kenton thought he was mistaken about the streaks in Ms. Wilson’s silver locks. They seemed to have taken on a more golden sheen, too natural for dye, the short cropped ends poking from the edges of her woolen hat, a rather bold burgundy affair. He followed the three former employees into the reception room where that poor chap waited, the retarded fellow. The irony of retired servants with a servant of their own was not lost on Kenton. The fellow’s resemblance to the Pickering nephew was uncanny. Distant family, perhaps?
Which one was it, now? Ah, yes, Trevor.
Read the entire tale at Strange, Weird & Wonderful Magazine
Graphic Design by Jeremy Martinson