It was a grey and quiet dawn when Wallace T. Jones, Esquire stared broodingly out the third story window of his deceased aunt’s country manor, his eyes fixed on the estuary below. Outside, the early spring chill had deepened though the rasp-like call of the snowy egret attested to the continuance of life—a life separated by the pane of glass on which he rested his forehead. There had been a time when the sight of mist twining among the reeds and waterways had brought a sense of contentment to his mind, but now—oh now—he could only focus on the devastation that his brain couldn’t quite accept: a pale hand followed by a slender arm followed by…nothing. By the darkness that still lingered in the shadow of sea grass. By the life snuffed out as if it were a distasteful thought. She may have been a woman of the night, but Mistress Arianna deserved better than that.
They all did, and he had yet to unearth their killer.
“I will avenge you, my dear,” he whispered to her memory, his thoughts flowing over and around the many evenings he had spent in Arianna’s care. It was personal—he knew it was personal—the way the killer had the innate ability to shadow his every move, his every thought. Wiley though he might be, this adversary must be fallible. The key was there. It had to be. Wallace looked down at the piece of foolscap left at the scene mere feet from Arianna’s hand.
You must not blame yourself, she had written. For the thousandth time, his eyes traced each letter of the elegant cursive. There was something about the letter “u.” Something vaguely familiar. It was too ornate, too intricate for Arianna, whose vowels were often harsh lines connected in a terse utility. He’d seen this script before. But when? From whom?
“Please, Sir, it’s time.”
Brushing a hand through his shock of white hair and rubbing his rheumy eyes, Wallace turned at the light touch on his arm. The note had so distracted him that he’d hardly registered the entrance of his stalwart companion, Edwin Augustine—a man of little action and fewer words.
“I never understood her hold over you,” Edwin gently pulled the note from his superior’s grasp. “But perhaps she had some wisdom in the end.”
The younger man perused the note in thought. “She’s telling you to let it go.”
“All the pieces are aligning,” Wallace whirled his left hand in emphasis. “I can see everything so clearly with the exception of…”
“It would be kinder to let her rest.” Ignoring the older man’s protest, Edwin tossed the foolscap into the fireplace, where it quickly turned to ash. His hand on the mantlepiece, Wallace T. Jones studied the embers in thought.
“Your mind isn’t what it was, Sir.”
Wallace nodded absently, his eyes following the flurry of embers. “How long has it been, Edwin?”
“Ten months, Sir, since Tuesday,” was the soft reply as Edwin guided Wallace toward the washbasin and began the arduous task of shaving the older man’s face.
“Ten months without a drop of liquor and it hasn’t done a wit of good.” Hissing as Edwin nicked his skin, Wallace stilled the young man’s hands, carefully catching them in his own. “I made a vow to her. By deuce, I plan to honor it.”
Nodding as he released his hands, Edwin wiped the straight edge of the razor on a damp towel before returning to his task.
“He’s a devious one, our adversary.” Wallace muttered while turning his head for a better angle. “You didn’t know about the poem, did you? I do believe he’s mocking me. I am a bloody fool.”
“Oh, something about lilacs…”
“’When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed’?” The words were casual. Almost too casual.
“Why yes! How the devil did you…” The razor pressed more firmly against his throat.
“How indeed, Sir. How indeed.” Edwin whispered in the old man’s ear. “You are a bloody fool.”