Sneaking about the halls, barreling down narrow stairwells, Ms. Fontaine led me by the hand, whisking me away to a secret location.
Perhaps she wishes to kiss me in secret? Oh Benjamin, you fool, get your head out of the clouds. Should she wish to kiss you she could have done so back in the artifact room. No, this is something much less desirable.
“Miss Fontaine, wherever are you leading me?”
Stopping outside of a door, she whispered, “Keep your voice down. We only have a short window of time before the lady comes looking.”
Opening the door with a key, she pulled me into a room with papers lining the wall, threads reaching out and connection pictures, words, and headings together.
“What…is all this?”
With the door shut, she answered, “This is the reason I called you here.”
Examining the wall of news clippings, I noticed a common thread. They all had to do, or seemed to do, with the Dupont’s. Another common theme was murder. Murder in Paris, murder in Boston, strange death in Pigeon Forge, all the articles were about a death taking place at one of the Dupont’s estates.
“You did all this?” I asked, flabbergasted at the level of detail.
Reaching for a magnifying glass, she said, “Its not at all something I planned. You see, when I first began my stay with the Dupont’s, it was purely for my father’s benefit. He wished to strengthen the business ties between out families and noticed Miss Dupont took a liking to my company. I suppose not having children of her own has left her lonely.” Looking intently at a clipping, she continued, “Ever since then, I have noticed strange things happening about the grounds. Mysterious noises, odd shipments, and then, at the party, the dead guest. That was when I really put my nose to the grindstone.”
This is…impressive. I had no idea Miss Dupont was so analytical. “So, you think the man was murdered by the Dupont’s?”
“I do. In fact, I believe he is just one of many victims.”
“How did you obtain all this? Do you have a connection with the papers?”
With a grin, she pulled out a latter from a locked jewelry chest. Placing it in my hands, I pulled the note out from inside and began to read it aloud. “Dear Miss Fontaine, it has come to my attention that you have been poking about my sister’s business. Many others have done so and met a gruesome end. Should you wish that not to be your fate, you will meet me at the in the center of the hedge maze on the 7th of the month at sundown, signed, D.”
Confused, I looked to Miss Fontaine and asked, “Who is D?”
She snatched the letter out of my hand, locking it back into the chest. “I was as clueless as you until I met them.”
I raised my eyebrows, eager for her explanation.
“Miss Ella La Croix Dupont’s sister, Diana.”
“Miss Dupont has a sister?”
“Indeed, she does. Miss Diana discovered someone was prodding the staff for information regarding Ella. Once she learned it was me, she reached out and has been assisting me all this time. Apparently, she was kicked out of the family. While she never told me why, Diana is the reason the Dupont’s had to leave Paris.”
“This is all…incredibly fascinating Miss Fontaine, however, I’m not sure why you chose to show me. Assuming I want to get involved, what could I possible do to assist?”
“You have no obligation to help. In fact, the door is right there. Walk out, and I won’t bother you again as long as you live.”
This is nuts. She thinks the Dupont’s are murderers and now she wants me to get involved. Why not alert the authorities? “Why not report them to the law? Surly and investigator would be a superior ally than I?”
“No use,” she groaned, “the law if under their hand. They flash some money in their face, and they look the other way.”
Figures, even back home the bobbies are useless. Oh Miss Fontaine, why couldn’t you have been steeling me away for a romantic smooch? Why drop all this in my lap?
Heading for the door, I gripped the handle, leaning toward leaving and forgetting the entire experience. Then, looking back at Miss Fontaine, the oddest impulse took hold. Releasing my grip on the knob, I walked over and said, “Fine, tell me what you know.”
With a hearty smile, she moved me closer to the wall and began to elaborate. “What do all these deaths have in common?”
“Well, they all took place on the Dupont’s properties.”
“True, but that’s not all. A deeper look reveals that the victims, all of them, had some kind of business rivalry with them. The first victim was an ivory dealer, the second an exotic animal trapper, the third, our party guest, was a Native American antiques salesman. Once they were removed from the picture the Dupont’s would soak up the market and turn a huge profit.”
Following the threads, it was hard to deny the facts. “Wow, amazing work Miss Fontaine.”
“Blushing, she replied, “Focus up, there is still more I need to say.” Taking out another article, she asked, “What does the headline say?”
Squinting, I read, “Locals claim strange monster lives in forest. Sighting increases daily.”
Oh no, I don’t like where this is heading.
With a suspicion in her voice, she asks, “Now what do you think that’s all about?”
What a loaded question for her to ask! What do I think its about? Good heavens, I think a ravenous monster is romping through the wood, feasting on bones in its dark, damp cave. “Uhm, I’m not sure?”
Hesitating, she moved in closer, peering deep into my eyes. “Listen, I know how this will sound. You are going to think I am losing my mind. But please hear me out first, okay?
Nodding my head, I said, “Okay.”
“At first glance, this article sounds like nonsense. I mean, a monster running through the woods, abducting, and killing townsfolk, it’s crazy!”
Yes, good lady…crazy indeed.
“But then I too noticed a strange sight when coming upon the murdered guest.”
Gulping, I asked, “What did you see?”
Hesitating once more, she moved in closer still until he lips nearly brushed against my ear. “A monster,” she whispered.
Chills ran down my spine, my blood turning into ice and my face donning a pale white hue. “A mo…mo, mo monster you say?”
“Indeed, a monster as ugly, and sinister, and vile as could be. I saw it tear through the brush and out of sight, disappearing into the woods from which it came.” Turning her face away, she cried, “you must think I’m crazy for saying such things!”
I wish you were good lady, but I can offer no such assurance. “No, not at all my dear. I too have encountered such a beast. But I do wonder, why bring this up? What does it have to do with the murders?”
She shivered as I held her, goosebumps rising off her porcelain skin. “I’m not sure but…Diana told me the two may be one in the same. That Mister, or Misses Dupont have a connection to the beast.” Now gripping me out of fear, she asked, “You don’t suppose they are the creature, do you? Like some kind of cursed being who changes at the light of a full moon?”
Doing my best to calm her, I said, “Not at all dear lady, in fact, I have begun to formulate my own theory for what may be happening in this wretched town. A connection between Doctor Winston and the Dupont’s is biggening to materialize.”
“What connection,” she asked through innocent, soul piercing eyes.
“I don’t wish to say, not just yet. While I have confidence in my theory, I require more information. Miss Fontaine, could you lead me back to the room Miss Dupont left us in? I want to keep suspicion to a minimum.”
“Well yes, but what am I to do in the meantime?”
“Hmm, keep a low profile, keep in touch with Miss Diana, and stay indoors. Myth or not, this creature seems dangerous. Now, quickly, lets return before they notice!”
Rushing up the stairs, we made it back to the room. No sooner had we shut the door than did we hear Miss Dupont returning from the study.
“Sorry my lovelies,” she announced while entering the room, “the gentlemen needed a woman’s eye.”
“Not a problem Miss Dupont. Miss Fontaine and I were busy admiring your beautiful collection.”
Twirling about the room, she replied, “Ah yes, magical is it not? And to think we were able to obtain them at nearly a fraction of what they cost.”
Miss Fontaine and I glanced at one another and smirked. That’s right Miss Dupont, we are on to you. In the distance, the voices of Mr. Dupont and Doctor Winston echoed through the hall, growing louder as they approached.
“Ah there you are my young apprentice.” Doctor Winston exclaimed.
“Yes sir, here I am. I was just admiring the craftsmanship of this native mask.” Picking it up, I covered my face, my eyes peering through the holes.
“Fine work indeed. Anyhow, its time we headed out. Time waits for no one, brilliant or not.”
“Yes Doctor, I will meet you downstairs. I wish to say goodbye to Miss Fontaine.”
Raising his eyebrows, he joked, “Young love eh, very well. But don’t terry. I wish to get started on my latest project without delay.”
Now alone, I gave Miss Fontaine one last piece of advice. “Now my dear, listen close. I believe we are the cusp of uncovering something truly sinister. Stay calm, stay collected, and if ever you should need something, reach out over the wire tap and send out an SOS.”
“I don’t know how to say SOS in morse code.”
“Fear not for its rather simple. Tap the lever thrice in quick succession, then thrice at a slower pace, and then thrice again at a faster pace.”
“Got it, I think I can do that.”
“Very good, now, until we meet again. Stay safe my dear lady.”
With a tender kiss on me cheek she whispered, “And you as well, my dear man.”
Oh my, did she just…I think she did. Wow…I don’t know what to…I don’t know how to react…I um—
“Mr. Taylor,” she announced, snapping me back to reality. “You shouldn’t keep the doctor waiting lest he get suspicious.”
“Aha, yes, but of course. Well, uh, goodnight Ms. Fontaine. I will see you again soon.” Every time I close my eyes.
The carriage ride home was uneventful. The doctor hardly said a word as we bumped along the dirty road. Peeking out through the tiny window, he gazed into the forest, a longing taking hold in his eyes. I too was preoccupied. My mind was heavy with the revelations Miss Fontaine uncovered. That, combined with the kiss made for a mind unable to desist in wandering.
“Here we are gents, back at the lab.”
“Thank you, good man,” Doctor Winston replied to the driver, flipping him a coin and making for the door.
Once inside, I began to ask him some directed questions. “So, how was the meeting with Mr. Dupont?”
Looking at me with uncertainty, he replied, “Very good, we hammered out the details of our business agreement.”
“Not to pry, but what details might those be? Will he be providing us with more money for our research?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it, Mr. Taylor. It doesn’t concern you in the least. Try not to clutter your mind with unnecessary worries.”
I took of my coat and placed it on the chair. Then, biting into an apple, I said, “Perhaps you’re right. Although, some of what Miss Dupont said is concerning.”
On a dime, Doctor Winston turned around and asked, “What is it she has been saying?”
I leaned back in the chair. Looks like I got your attention now. “Nothing of value, she simply claimed to have been witness to some odd happenings on the estate grounds.”
His face became tense, eyes narrowing as though he was trying to read my mind. “What kind of happenings?”
“Well, for one, she claims to have seen a strange creature roving about. Not only that, but she apparently has been keeping details of the sightings in a notebook. Dates, eyewitnesses, locations, all of it is in ink.”
A paleness began to take hold him. Clammy arms swung low with distress. “Oh, well, I wouldn’t worry about such fairytales Mr. Taylor. I’m sure these claims are nothing more than the overactive imagination of a lonely lady, desperate for excitement.”
“Yes, I completely agree good doctor. She did look rather unhinged while regaling me.”
“See, nothing to worry about young lad. Now then, if you’ll excuse me, I need to make a quick stop in the study. I forgot to tell Mr. Dupont something vital and wont rest well until I do.”
“Ah, well then, don’t let me keep you. I shall head to my room and get ready for bed.”
Once I started to walk up the stairs, Doctor Winton rushed to the study, slamming the door behind him. Sneaking back down, I listened close, my ear against the door.
While I couldn’t understand most of what was said, I did pick up bits and pieces.
Click, click, click, “keep your wife under control.”
Tap, tap, tap, “Suspicion growing.”
Click, click, click, “Tomorrow at midnight.”
With footsteps approaching from inside, I bolted upstairs and jumped into bed, sloppily covering myself with the sheets.
Now at my door, he cracked it open and peered inside. Entering the room, he pulled the covers over my feet and whispered, “Goodnight my young apprentice...sleep tight.” ns184.108.40.206da2