My family is off on various outings—my father at a meeting, Sebastian playing a croquet game, and Evangeline and my mother at a luncheon. That is how Ms. Burton—Cass—ends up searching the parlor of the manor as I sit in the library. The memories of that night are still too fresh, so I attempt to distract myself by reading a particularly thick novel to no avail. I end up nervously fidgeting before the fireplace for a good bit of time before she enters, holding up a lantern. She is obviously prepared.
“Elliot,” she says, “You should see this. I believe I know how the murderer came in.”
She shows me out into the parlor, leading me to a wood-paneled wall. There, she gestures to a small gap in the wood. I have never noticed it before—the manor is too large for me to notice fine details such as that.
Rocking forward, she presses her hands against the wall. With a springing sound, a rather small door pops open. I gasp as I peer into a long, dark passage. It is very dusty, and there are cobwebs covering the walls, yet it is evident to me that someone had been there recently. There are footprints in the dust, and the cobwebs have been mangled as if someone walked through them. I never knew that my home has passages like this, but it is very old, so none of its inhabitants can be sure of what the walls held.
“What do you say?” Cass asked, raising an eyebrow in challenge. “Should we go in?”
Terror swirls in the pit of my stomach, but still, I nod. Being impervious to fear, Cass enters first, extending her arm so that the lantern shines into the passage.
The air grows cold and damp, and it begins to stink of mildew and rot. The passage is quite narrow, and cobwebs brush against my shoulders as I continue on after Cass.
The passage is short; perhaps ten meters. Cass stops, brushing more cobwebs aside as she steps into a small rectangular room, which a small wooden ledge encircles. She draws in a quick breath and takes an object off of it. I peer down into her hands. It’s a tiny brown glass bottle. She smooths back its label. Braccodin, 50 ml, it reads.
“Braccodin!” Class gasps. “That is one of the most fatal chemicals known to man. One milliliter can kill a human, and”—she pauses to inspect the bottle in the light of her lantern—“it looks like your sister was poisoned by all fifty.” She looks quite petrified.
The shock of the realization is almost too much for me to bear. Margaret was beyond saving. She was dead the moment the glass was set in front of her. I blink back tears in time to hear Cass whisper, “And I think I know who did it.”
“What! Who?” I exclaim.
“His name’s Bailey. Thomas Bailey. He’s an exterminator, and he happens to be the only man in town who has access to this poison. He probably found this way to access your house while he was working around the outside.” Now that she mentions it, the name Bailey sounds familiar.
Cass’s eyes scan the walls of the small room. Almost immediately, she finds a small latch that blends in with the rest of the wall’s grooves. As she lifts it, a door swings open, revealing the side garden. “There we go.”
We rush to the stables, where Cass mounts a tawny stallion. I clamber on behind her, and she leads us at an outrageous pace to town. She dismounts the horse and tells me to keep a hold on its reigns as she approaches the door, chips of dark paint clinging to weathered wood. The sign hanging on the small building reads Bailey Extermination. She barely gets out a knock before it’s opened by a tall, handsome man in a ragged brown overcoat. There is something familiar about him, probably because he has worked for my family.
“Cass?” he asks, smiling. His reaction is unexpected—I thought that he was an acquaintance of Cass’s, but he must know her fairly well to call her by her first name. “It is lovely to see you! And who is this, your husband?” he asks, gesturing to me.
“Drop the act, Thomas,” she spits, pulling a pistol from an unseen holster inside her coat. Her face is intense as I have ever seen it. Mr. Bailey’s eyes widen as he gasps. “We know you murdered Margaret Murray. Confess.”
“I—I don’t know what you mean,” he whimpers. He hangs his head. “I had no reason to. I . . . loved her.”
My pulse rushes, and my brain begins to work furiously. I know where I’ve seen that coat before. The gala. With that woman who looked like Margaret. That was Margaret. She must have been in love with a poor man but could have never married him. My heart breaks for her all over again; the unfairness of it. Could he have really poisoned her? But then . . . why?
Suddenly, it all comes in a rush. Cass was at the gala. Cass told me that she spent all her time at the pub but looked so out of place there when I visited her. She found the passage unusually quickly, and she knew a strange amount about Thomas Bailey.
“It was you,” I hiss.
Cass whips around, brown eyes alight. “What did you say?” she asks in an eerie calm, barely restrained fury beneath the surface of her face.
I want to pretend like I never said it, but the words, usually so hard to find, rush out in a flood. “You killed my sister, Cassandra Burton. You did it. I don’t know why, but you are a wicked, conniving slug.”
In an instant, she leaps to me, the barrel of the pistol against my temple. “Wrong choice, Mr. Murray,” she says quietly, grinning as her finger against the trigger. The reigns loosened in my grip, the horse spooks and gallops away. “You have no idea how much I hated your sister. How much . . .” In a moment of weakness, her chin trembles and she swallows. “Thomas meant to me. But he never really cared. He was intent on running away with Margaret. The idiot.” Her creepy smile returns. “So, I decided to kill Margaret and frame Thomas for it. So that they both would pay. But I guess I could have him kill you and then turn the gun on himself, a minor adjustment to our story.”
“Y-you’re crazy!” I squeak out, sensing the last moments of my life rapidly approaching.
“At least I —” Suddenly, Cass gasps, and her eyes roll back in her head. She collapses on the ground. Trembling, I step back. Thomas Bailey stands behind her, a tiny needle in his hand.
“Phaxant,” he says, looking me straight in the eye. “A potent sedative. That should keep her out until we get the police.”
He heaves a sigh, and shadows gather around his face. “Cass and I were good childhood friends. I never knew that she had feelings for me, and the fact that she would . . .” He brings his hands to his eyes, overcome with sorrow.
In the days following, it is very hard for my family to learn that Margaret truly was poisoned. I think that my mother’s and Evangeline’s tears are genuine. The good of it is that Thomas becomes like a brother to me; a shoulder to cry on when I miss Margaret. Sometimes, he will stand next to me, silently, steadfastly, just as Margaret had done.